Letter from a Master to his pupil
A warning to the seeker after occult knowledge
As we mention in several of our articles, there still exist a very few Occult Orders who know and teach the Ancient Wisdom taught by the great Sages of the past. Whether the 19th Century author and occultist, Edward Bulwer-Lytton was a member of such an order is not for us to say, nor do we wish to speculate whether or not the principle characters in his occult masterpiece, Zanoni (reviewed on our Books page), were based on real persons known to him. What we can say is that Mejnour, the Teacher of the magician Zanoni in this tale, exhibits all the characteristics of a genuine Hierophant of the Sacred Mysteries. What follows below is a letter written by Mejnour to his pupil, Clarence Glyndon, a would-be student of occultism who, like many such seekers after hidden knowledge and power, both past and present, falls at the first hurdle and reaps the reward of his presumption, selfishness, weakness and disloyalty. . .
We publish it as a warning to those who imagine that they can become an adept in the Occult Sciences in a few short weeks or months, hoping in this way to obtain what they THINK is power, wealth and all the rest of the worthless dross which such vain and foolish seekers desire in their blindness. Moreover, this letter also serves to show the difference between REAL Occult Science and what passes for it in the popular imagination of the average seeker after Occult Knowledge. Finally, and most significantly for those of us who ARE on the path to the Light, or truly WISH to be, it illustrates what happens to those who, like Clarence Glyndon, turn away from the One Light to the twilight or darkness. . .in his case for selfish reasons. But there are many seekers who do so for other reasons, such as impatience, laziness, inconstancy, intellectual pride and lack of concentration and faith.
Letter from Mejnour to his pupil, Clarence Glyndon.
Extracted from Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Book V Chapter 1.
"When I first received thee as my pupil, I promised Zanoni, if convinced by thy first trials that thou couldst but swell, not the number of our order, but the list of the victims who have aspired to it in vain, I would not rear thee to thine own wretchedness and doom,—I would dismiss thee back to the world. I fulfil my promise. Thine ordeal has been the easiest that neophyte ever knew. I asked for nothing but abstinence from the sensual, and a brief experiment of thy patience and thy faith. Go back to thine own world; thou hast no nature to aspire to ours!
"It was I who prepared Paolo to receive thee at the revel. It was I who instigated the old beggar to ask thee for alms. It was I who left open the book that thou couldst not read without violating my command (*see note 1 at end). Well, thou hast seen what awaits thee at the threshold of knowledge. Thou hast confronted the first foe that menaces him whom the senses yet grasp and inthrall. Dost thou wonder that I close upon thee the gates forever? Dost thou not comprehend, at last, that it needs a soul tempered and purified and raised, not by external spells, but by its own sublimity and valour, to pass the threshold and disdain the foe?
Wretch! All my silence avails nothing for the rash, for the sensual,—for him who desires our secrets but to pollute them to gross enjoyments and selfish vice. How have the impostors and sorcerers of the earlier times perished by their very attempt to penetrate the mysteries that should purify, and not deprave! They have boasted of the Philosopher's Stone, and died in rags; of the immortal elixir, and sunk to their grave, grey before their time. Legends tell you that the fiend rent them into fragments. Yes; the fiend of their own unholy desires and criminal designs! What they coveted, thou covetest; and if thou hadst the wings of a seraph thou couldst soar not from the slough of thy mortality. Thy desire for knowledge, but petulant presumption; thy thirst for happiness, but the diseased longing for the unclean and muddied waters of corporeal pleasure; thy very love, which usually elevates even the mean, a passion that calculates treason amidst the first glow of lust. THOU one of us; thou a brother of the August Order; thou an Aspirant to the Stars that shine in the Shemaia of the Chaldean lore! The eagle can raise but the eaglet to the sun. I abandon thee to thy twilight!
"But, alas for thee, disobedient and profane! Thou hast inhaled the elixir; thou hast attracted to thy presence a ghastly and remorseless foe (*see note 2 at end). Thou thyself must exorcise the phantom thou hast raised. Thou must return to the world; but not without punishment and strong effort canst thou regain the calm and the joy of the life thou hast left behind. This, for thy comfort, will I tell thee: he who has drawn into his frame even so little of the volatile and vital energy of the aerial juices as thyself, has awakened faculties that cannot sleep,—faculties that may yet, with patient humility, with sound faith, and the courage that is not of the body like thine, but of the resolute and virtuous mind, attain, if not to the knowledge that reigns above, to high achievement in the career of men. Thou wilt find the restless influence in all that thou wouldst undertake. Thy heart, amidst vulgar joys will aspire to something holier; thy ambition, amidst coarse excitement, to something beyond thy reach. But deem not that this of itself will suffice for glory. Equally may the craving lead thee to shame and guilt. It is but an imperfect and new-born energy which will not suffer thee to repose. As thou directest it, must thou believe it to be the emanation of thine evil genius or thy good.
"But woe to thee! Insect meshed in the web in which thou hast entangled limbs and wings! Thou hast not only inhaled the elixir, thou hast conjured the spectre; of all the tribes of the space, no foe is so malignant to man,—and thou hast lifted the veil from thy gaze. I cannot restore to thee the happy dimness of thy vision. Know, at least, that all of us—the highest and the wisest—who have, in sober truth, passed beyond the threshold, have had, as our first fearful task, to master and subdue its grisly and appalling guardian. Know that thou CANST deliver thyself from those livid eyes,—know that, while they haunt, they cannot harm, if thou resistest the thoughts to which they tempt, and the horror they engender. DREAD THEM MOST WHEN THOU BEHOLDEST THEM NOT.
And thus, son of the worm, we part! All that I can tell thee to encourage, yet to warn and to guide, I have told thee in these lines. Not from me, from thyself has come the gloomy trial from which I yet trust thou wilt emerge into peace. Type of the knowledge that I serve, I withhold no lesson from the pure aspirant; I am a dark enigma to the general seeker. As man's only indestructible possession is his memory, so it is not in mine art to crumble into matter the immaterial thoughts that have sprung up within thy breast. The tyro might shatter this castle to the dust, and topple down the mountain to the plain. The master has no power to say, 'Exist no more,' to one THOUGHT that his knowledge has inspired. Thou mayst change the thoughts into new forms; thou mayst rarefy and sublimate it into a finer spirit,—but thou canst not annihilate that which has no home but in the memory, no substance but the idea. EVERY THOUGHT IS A SOUL! Vainly, therefore, would I or thou undo the past, or restore to thee the gay blindness of thy youth. Thou must endure the influence of the elixir thou hast inhaled; thou must wrestle with the spectre thou hast invoked!"
"It was I who prepared Paolo to receive thee at the revel..." Mejnour here refers to incidents earlier in Glyndon's training, when he is subjected to certain tests. These include Self-control (in the shape of the lovely 'Fillide'—a local maiden whom Glyndon first seduces and then abandons); Charity (the beggar referred to in the letter, whom Glyndon spurns; Patience—Glyndon cannot resist opening a book his Master has expressly forbidden him to read, which has been left in plain view; and finally, Faith in, and Loyalty to, his Teacher.
We may say that such tests are still given in the truly great Occult Orders that exist in the world today. Yet, as in Bulwer-Lytton's story, the pupil is generally not aware that he or she IS being tested, nor the nature of such tests, until very much later.
The "ghastly and remorseless foe" that Mejnour refers to in his letter is the mysterious 'Dweller of the Threshold', about whom there has been, and remains, so much speculation, more or less fantastic and inaccurate. The 'Dweller' is introduced in Book IV, chapter VII of the book.
You can read our brief analysis of this enigmatical letter in our afterword on your right. We would add that Bulwer-Lytton is probably one of the most underrated occultists of the past few hundred years and certainly one of the most learned, though like all genuine mystics, he took great pains to conceal the occult truths he wrote about under the veil of allegory and symbolism.
Zanoni is freely available to read online on many websites in various editions. The book has also been reprinted several times since it was first published in 1842. You can find links to these editions, and a full review of the novel, elsewhere on our website.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article added 3 March 2013. Updated 15 March 2020.