The mystery of Love

An occult investigation of the nature and meaning of Love


In response to a number of questions from a regular reader on the subject of love we have decided to investigate something of the nature, meaning and mystery of this complex emotion. We say 'something' deliberately, for we should need to write a very large book or books to fully explore a subject which has occupied the minds of philosophers and the hearts of poets for thousands of years. Consequently we shall confine our exploration to the occult side of love; that is to say its hidden aspects and meaning, not such popular topics as 'gender identity', homosexuality or relationship problems. You can find plenty of information on these things elsewhere on the Internet and in books.

It will, however, be necessary to refer to some of these subjects in passing as we develop our theme. But our main aim is to discover something about love that we didn't know before, especially in regard to occult studies and spiritual development. For the man or woman who does not love what they are studying, in the best and highest sense of the word, is never going to get very far in any area, least of all Occult Science. During our investigation we will need to dispel some illusions and rid ourselves of a few misconceptions. In doing so we shall refer to several writers, ancient and modern, so as to obtain the fullest possible view of our subject. To help us in this task, we are delighted to welcome back John Temple who has kindly supplied us with an afterword which complements and elucidates our theme by examining some significant references to love in the Bible. So without further ado, let us begin at the beginning by asking ourselves a few simple questions about an emotion we all think we know so well...

What is Love?

The first misconception we need to jettison is that love is something that happens to us over which we have no control. This notion has been fostered by generations of romantic novelists and poets and is the definition we are most likely to encounter if we 'google' our question. Let us give you a few examples. The 19th century French writer Stendhal tells us: "Love is like a fever which comes and goes quite independently of the will." Many of our readers will probably agree with this statement notwithstanding the fact that, as we point out in our article on Fate versus Free-Will: "No human being can force another human being to become his slave so far as the mind is concerned." Stendhal was either ignorant of this truth or chose to ignore it, preferring instead to focus on the 'fever' of being 'in love'. We shall come back to this point later on when we consider the different kinds of love. Meanwhile, let us see if we can find a more helpful and meaningful answer to our first question that doesn't revolve around romantic love

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken," wrote C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves, a book that explores the nature of love from a Christian perspective. We can agree with him to a large extent, for love—if it be worthy of the name—involves sacrifice, and the greater the love, the bigger the sacrifice. This immediately reminds us of the torture of Jesus, of Pythagoras, burned alive by an enraged mob, and the sacrifice of health and strength Madame Blavatsky made to promulgate the ancient Wisdom to a largely unappreciative and unheeding audience. The opposite of sacrifice is selfishness. Here we are reminded of the young lover who said to his beloved: "Darling, you know I would go through fire and water for you. I'll see you next Thursday if it's not raining."

Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov gives us something to think about when he says: "what is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love," whilst St. Thomas Aquinas, echoing Aristotle, defines love as "to will the good of another." We have no quarrel with either definition. But when psychologists trot out such inanities as "love is unconditional selflessness," or "a chemical reaction triggered by the brain," we part company with science and turn to Shakespeare instead, who answers our question in a single line in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind." This is our first and most important clue as to the nature of love—any kind of love. It is a mental current of desire. Only after the mind—Higher or lower—has 'looked' as Shakespeare puts it, does the body and its complex chemistry play a part in the matter. Occult Science teaches that love is closely associated with memory. This is our second clue, for all our ideas of love depend, in the ultimate, on our memory, however fragmentary and vague, of the relationship we enjoyed with our Creator when first we emerged into existence as conscious, living beings. We find a dim reflection of this in the love we feel, or most of us feel, towards our earthly parents, who brought us into this world and fashioned our bodies for us.

The Quest of Ruru, which can be read in full on this website, has a great deal to say about love in all its varieties, and affirms what we have just told you. In chapter 17, Narāda says to his pupil Ruru: "In reality Love depends on the memory of first creation..." We shall refer to this important book again, but before we do so we need to consider the difference between lust and love which many people confuse. We cannot do better than listen to Shakespeare once more. We have quoted his sublime wisdom many times in our various articles, most notably in our investigation of the concealed wisdom in sublime poetry, but he also knew all about love in all its many varieties, as we shall now see.

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despiséd straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

(Sonnet 129)

A better description of sexual passion and the experience of 'falling' in and out of 'love' it would be hard to find. There is an amusing episode in The Quest of Ruru in which the eponymous seeker after Truth encounters an Indian barber who recounts the 'ten stages of love' to the young man. Although the book is set in ancient India, 2,000 years ago, these stages reprise Shakespeare's sonnet with eerie similarity.

The pleasure of seeing the adored one.
The pleasure of thinking of her.
The birth of desire for union.
The loss of sleep.
Total indifference for all other beings or things.
Loss of shame and timidity.
Distraction leading to insanity.
Fainting fits.

The barber goes on to tell Ruru that: "these are the inevitable ten stages of love and they always work out like this if the lovers are separated." Those of our readers who have suffered unrequited love or lost a loved one, especially at a young age, will nod knowingly at the barber's words with a bittersweet smile of recognition. But in fairness to all lovers, past and present, the barber's amusing homily refers to more than mere physical passion, as we shall see later on when we come to discuss the word 'love' and its many meanings in greater depth. Having quoted Shakespeare's devastating definition of physical and sexual love, let us see what this peer among poets had to say about unconditional, spiritual love.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixéd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

(Sonnet 116).

Most lovers will experience both kinds of love described by the Bard at times during their relationship, whether this lasts a year or an entire lifetime. But only the second kind leads to lasting happiness, here on earth or after so-called 'death' in the higher realms of being. Or we might put it another way by saying that we have to pay for our pleasures (in one way or another), whereas our joys earned. This is what Shakespeare means when he says: 'love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.' Yes, love, real love, requires sacrifice, loyalty, faithfulness and patience, to name only a few of the qualities which bring their own reward. This is earning joy, and there is no other way to obtain this blessing. But read Shakespeare's works for yourself and be amazed at his profound knowledge of the human heart, mind and soul. He plumbs the whole height and depth of human emotion in ways in which no psychologist has ever done, or can do, for such, however eminent in their own fields, lack the fire of true inspiration which descends upon the born Poet from on High and allows him to speak to us with the honeyed tongue of the Angels of Heaven, scattering pearls of Divine Wisdom with every stroke of his golden pen.

The varieties of Love

Those of our readers who know somewhat of the classics may be aware that in ancient Greece there were three different words for Love—a distinction still preserved today in modern Greek, as well as in Hungarian and a few other languages. These words were Agápe, Philía and Éros. As we shall see, each has a different meaning and direct correspondence with one or more of the occult principles of man, namely, body, lower self, Higher Self and Divine Soul which we discuss in our occult studies course.

Agápe is the unconditional and all-encompassing love of God for His creation. In man it finds its highest expression in the selfless love of a mother for her offspring. It is also the love of a devout and truly religious man or woman for God. Agápe was used by Christians to express the goodwill that should prevail (but rarely did in practise!) between the members of the early Church. We may say that Agápe corresponds with the Divine Soul and enlightened Higher Self in man.

Philía finds its closest parallel in our word 'affection', whether between relatives, friends or complete strangers. The Greeks seem to have regarded Philía as a dispassionate, virtuous kind of love, a concept later developed by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, in which he defines it variously as brotherly love and familial loyalty which enshrines virtue, equality and familiarity. So we may say that Philía corresponds mainly to the Higher Self though the lower self is capable of refined, virtuous affection too, as we may observe in certain animals. Hence it is the love between family members, close friends, and, at times, lovers too, when affection grows on the soil of passion.

This leads us to the third kind of love which the Greeks distinguished by the word Éros, meaning sexual passion. Plato thought that although Éros is initially felt for a person, it can develop into an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even an appreciation of beauty as an abstract principle in its own right. In this way, what we may call a 'lower' kind of love can evolve into a higher kind. Of course, the reverse is true too and history affords us many examples of notable men and women who have 'fallen' from unconditional affection or Philía to the basest kind of passion, or 'sex addiction' as we now call it! Today we use the word 'Platonic' to define love without physical attraction. But the word is something of a misnomer unless we qualify it with the adjective 'sexual'. All love has some physical component. We simply cannot escape this fundamental limitation so long as we dwell in a material body.

When we turn to ancient India, lo and behold, we find that Sanskrit too, has three words for love, namely, Kama, Bhakti and Maitri, the first two of which may be familiar to some readers. Kama, of course, is the prefix to the well-known Indian treatise on sexual love known as the Kama-Sutra. This at once gives us its meaning: the love of sensual things, sensory desire, especially sexual desire. Kama should be pronounced 'kaymah' by the way, and is not to be conflated with 'Karma', which is something else entirely.

Bhakti literally means attachment, participation, fondness for, homage, faith, love, devotion, worship, purity and the like. It was originally used in Hinduism to define the devotee's selfless love for God. In ancient texts such as the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, the term simply means participation, devotion and love for any endeavour, while in the Bhagavad Gita it connotes one of the possible spiritual paths towards Moksha, or liberation from rebirth, commonly known as Bhakti Yoga. Maitri means benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, amity, good will, and charity towards all. So we may say that roughly speaking, Kama corresponds to Éros, Bhakti to Philía and Maitri to Agápe.

What is not generally known is that the ancient Egyptians—who preceded the Greeks by many millennia—also had three different words for 'love'. Abebu, feminine form Abebut, (from 'Ab', meaning heart in Egyptian) for the affection between friends and family members, especially children, corresponding to the Greek Philía; Netchemnet for the passionate, sexual love between a man and a woman, corresponding to the Greek Éros; and Merrut, the Divine Love of the Gods, corresponding to the Greek Agápe. We find confirmation of this in the inscriptions and the papyri of ancient Egypt, where the pharaoh is styled "Meri-Amen" or "Meri-Ra", meaning 'beloved of' the Gods Amen or Ra. However, we also find many grammatical variants and cases of Merrut, such as Mer, Meri, Merit, Meruti (meaning 'beloved') used for the affection between human beings, most generally man and wife, so in this case the word seems to have enjoyed a wider meaning than the Greek Agápe

Yet, it is a wise man or woman who can say where one kind of love ends and another begins! Like the two minds or selves in man, the different kinds of love we have been discussing, often overlap, mix and mingle, making it hard, if not impossible, to say which, if any, is the predominant emotion in any given context or circumstance. An added complication is that one kind of love may develop into another, such as sexual passion into affectionate regard, which is often the case in marriage as the two partners grow older as we mentioned earlier. All this serves to remind us of the importance of not falling into the trap of regarding any given subject from only one aspect in the mistaken view that it is the only correct and proper interpretation.

Our perceptive readers will have noted that all the three examples we have cited, from Greece, India and Egypt, employ three, and only three words for love. Why three? Why not two, or four or fifty, because it is clear one could easily divide the three terms discussed further. The answer lies in the number three itself. In our article about the science of numbers we said that the Pythagoreans called three the number of wisdom and understanding because it symbolises the trinity of Father-Mother-Son. This corresponds to the main principles or parts that make up man: body, lower self, Higher Self and Divine Soul. Interested readers should have little difficulty working out which of the three terms used by the Greeks, Agápe, Éros and Philía, correspond to which principle in man; and the same applies to the Sanskrit and Egyptian terms. All this points to a common source which can only be the great and wise civilisation of Atlantis, as we discuss in our several articles about the lost continent.

Before we conclude this part of our investigation we must not omit to mention another kind of love which neither the Greeks, Hindus or ancient Egyptians have a specific name for, though we consider it the finest emotion any human being can express, and that is the love of a true mother for her child. It is interesting in this connection that Hungarian uses the same word for a Mother's love and the love of God. We consider a true mother to be the holiest being alive on earth; but a bad mother, who neglects her child, is a demon who can never be forgiven for her unnatural acts. Men are what their mothers made them in more senses than one, for it is the mother who provides the brain as the most essential part of the body; the brain, that superfine instrument which the Higher and the lower mind will use towards that evolution, by experience, without which the individual can never hope to progress to the Light at all.

And a baby is, or should be, the mother's anchor, so that she may fulfil her destiny of guiding the tender years of her child and place its stumbling feet upon the path to the Light. Where there is a good mother in the house, all things speed well, and the sun of well-being is never without its golden glow of happiness. The future fate of the child is always the work of the mother, and as Thackeray said so beautifully in his Vanity Fair: "Mother is the name of God in the lips and hearts of little children." And what instruction the baby brings to the mother! For the bearing and the training of a child is Woman's wisdom. Here is sufficient material for many meditations on the mystery of Love!

Romantic love

We gave you the advice of a barber about love earlier when we quoted from The Quest of Ruru. The same book is filled with much practical wisdom about romantic love, such as the following homilies delivered by a colourful ascetic.

"A wicked woman is like a lotus-bed with its flowers expanded and an alligator lurking within it. The Creator first created recklessness, and then woman in imitation of it."

"Never forget that lust and wrath are the two bolts on the Gate of Salvation; this should keep you always safe, for he who is ensnared by the wrong woman is imprisoned in a deep dungeon."

"Who can constrain a furious river or a passionate woman? But a chaste one is guarded by her own virtue."

The ascetic goes on to warn Ruru—the eponymous hero of the book—about jealousy. Although he singles out the fair sex for his ire, it is only fair to add that the male of the species is no less guilty of this dreadful vice which always rebounds on the one who gives way to it. Anyway, here is the ascetic's warning. "A jealous woman is worse than all the rest, for jealousy is the seed of calamity; for the jealous mind loses all discernment, and such a one should be destroyed by Ambika, which is another name for Shiva." Those of you who have suffered from jealousy—as either victims or perpetrators—will recognise the truth and wisdom in the ascetic's words. The Chinese Sage, Li Wang Ho, who flourished in the 3rd century B.C., and whose teachings you can read in full on our website, counted Jealousy among the seven cardinal sins which must be avoided by those seeking enlightenment and liberation from rebirth. His words are well worth quoting in full.

"This dreadful state of mind (Jealousy) is the characteristic of the meanly ones. They are even lower than the materialists, for they have added a more deadly attribute to that state by reason of their envious predisposition. They lack harmony, which is an essential part of evolution, on account of their spiteful jealousies of other people's possessions, wits, and happiness; they have no freedom within themselves, as they are fettered down by their lack of goodwill and understanding. They are without confidence in their own powers to achieve the same elevation as those upon whom they look with green and squinting eyes; and they are utterly unbalanced and treacherous in their natures and unworthy to mix with their fellow-beings."

Harsh words, but true! But let us return to Ruru's friend, the ascetic, to see what other good things he has to say about women.

"A man who does not resist the bad instincts of a woman is like a man who shares a crime with his servant: for thus the master becomes the servant's slave."

"And have you, reverend Sir, also suffered through such women?" asked Ruru.
"Yes," replied the ascetic, growling deep within himself, "and in the end I sank into a jungle of depravity."
"How did you rescue yourself, then," asked Ruru; "did you slay her in the end?"
"Although the Three Worlds shudder when a woman betrays her lord and lover," said the holy man, "the truly brave are always merciful, and I let her go with the man she chose." This is true wisdom of the right sort, and those who practise it, though plunged into the deepest affliction through the betrayal of a partner, will not suffer long, as we may read in the excellent article on the power of forgiveness submitted to us by a contributor. Ruru then asks if the wayward lady could not have been corrected. To which the ascetic replies: "No one can compel a stone to stay fixed in the empty air by continually throwing it up. And no one can compel a woman to return to the path of virtue and stay there, by preaching."

Ruru, no less curious than his modern counterparts, next asks whether the woman was very beautiful. The ascetic's reply is most illuminating and well worth meditating upon. "Once there was a fierce demon, bent on destroying mankind by asking an unanswerable riddle. If the riddle was not solved, the man who failed was always annihilated. One day the demon met a simple peasant as he was tilling his field. He asked of the peasant his usual question: 'Who is the most beautiful woman in the land?'

'My wife,' the peasant replied.
'How can you prove that?' asked the demon again.
'Because I love her; and she who is beloved is always the most beautiful.'
'You are the only one who has ever solved my riddle,' said the demon, 'and henceforth I am your servant; command me.'

Again, there is much truth in this, and even today we say "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." To which we would add the prayer of Socrates who said: "Lord, may I be beautiful within." For inner beauty, that fadeth not, and shines forth from the eyes of the true of heart is worth a gallery of pretty faces.

In The Teachings of Li Wang Ho, mentioned earlier, we may read how selfishness in the matter of love has to be paid for in a future life. Herein it is related how all the attempts by a Chinese priest-magician to cure a sick woman failed. The priest tells the Mandarin who had summoned him to attend the lady that she was suffering on account of her misdeeds in a previous existence, when she was a famous courtesan. "In those days,' he said, "her experiences of love were only for gain; when one singing bird had sang his sweet serenade another songster came and continued the melody of love; and so it went from year to year until the end." When asked what could be done to alleviate her sufferings, the priest replied: "Neither you nor I can do anything. Once the mind has taken its pleasures through the body, the body must pay the account in one life or another. It is all a question of what we attune with, and the bonds—once woven—will last until the pre-destined purpose is fulfilled—and the Gods untie them."

This is not Karmic 'punishment' as it popularly misunderstood, any more than getting burned by approaching too close to a fire is punishment, but the inevitable working out of the effects of prior causes. All this leads to the final part of our investigation—the subject of so-called 'Soul Mates'—about which there is so much confusion in the minds of mystics and occultists alike.


Whenever the subject crops up we always ask what the person seeking a soul-mate has done to deserve such amazing good fortune? If only half the blessings claimed for this crowning glory are true, then such a union must be the greatest joy—physical, mental and spiritual—which any human being can possibly experience. Please pause here and think about the implications of this for a moment. Have you done so? Then we suggest to you that how we treat someone else's soul-mate should be our guide to our dispensation. If everyone were to pray that their soul-mate was being cared for in the way they would treat her or him, there would be no divorces, cheating partners, battered wives (or husbands!)—and no need for any of us to have the experience of living so many lifetimes with someone else's True Loves!

If you were to conclude from these remarks that we believe that the odds of meeting a soul-mate are many millions to one, you'd be right! But this doesn't mean we advocate celibacy because most of us will never experience this blessing. If we did, there would be many more frustrated men and women in the world. On the contrary, we regard it as a sacred duty to learn how to give and receive love. We can't do that if we're holed up alone in a room hoping and dreaming the 'one' will knock upon our door. In other words, if we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to love and be loved how can we be expected to understand and treat 'the real thing' when—or if—it ever comes along? As we have seen, love is an all-embracing word with many layers of meaning and we can think of at least a dozen different popular connotations which are used to describe it. But whatever form it takes, so long as it is honest and true, let us enjoy the consequences, for neither man nor woman was meant to be alone.

Having now dispelled the worst misconceptions about soul-mates, let us move on to what they actually are according to Occult Science, rather than what popular fancy would like them to be. Again, we turn to The Quest of Ruru for the true facts of the matter, for we know of no other book by any author in which they can be found. The only possible exception to this is Plato's Symposium, but in that book, the wily Greek philosopher concealed far more than he revealed, merely telling us that the 'gods' separated man into separate male and female principles, lest they become too powerful and challenge their authority and power. Ever since, Plato goes on to tell us, men and women have been too busy looking for their other 'halves' to trouble the 'gods'! So says the Greek allegory. In chapter 16 of The Quest of Ruru, we learn that: "two-fold is the Logos, and yet One in the combined consciousness of His Male and Female Principles; therefore: the Father-Mother God. This Law applies to all conscious living Entities; from the Supreme Deity right down to the lowest insect."

This prompts Ruru to observe: "Then it is true that each man and each woman is but half complete when they have not found their true other half." His teacher, Narāda, replies: "That is correct," adding: "but not until both the lovers have learnt to sacrifice ALL—even their love—if necessary (although when once they are united again there is no real further separation possible), and both have reached that sublime state of attunement with the High Region where dwells their Augoeides, the Luminous Soul and Logos of their common Ray, with whom all true Love and Friendship can exist in utter purity and selflessness: only then can they become free of the great Wheels and Cycles of rebirth on earth. As long as they are a prey to jealousy, greed, selfishness, attachment to worthless worldly goods and slaves to the senses, they must return to Earth with which they then are still attuned; until the final lesson has been mastered."

In chapter 17, the theme is taken up again by Narāda who tells his pupil: "Love and Memory are the same; for that which we do not love we soon forget as a rule, and the more we love the longer we remember—while perfect love can never be forgotten. In reality Love depends on the memory of first creation, and when the lovers find their Mate there blazes forth within their hearts a holy fervency that cannot be quenched." Here you have a true explanation—insofar as it can be explained in mere words—of the occult mystery Plato hinted at in his Symposium. An explanation, moreover, which fully satisfies the head as well as the heart. Here too, you have the reason why God is called Love and Love God, for they are one and the same. So when next your hear someone babbling about soul-mates you now know the truth of the matter, and the chances are they do not!


We would like to conclude this investigation, as we began it, with the wise words of Shakespeare. "And, when love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony" (Love's Labour's Lost).

© Copyright Article published 29 September 2019. Updated 12 April 2024.

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