Reading the White Eagle Teachings (1)

This is intended as a three-article series that I hope will provide some help in understanding the teaching we share, not so much by its content but by focusing on how we read it and what were White Eagle and the Brotherhood’s intentions in giving the teaching.

Much of this first article will be about how we actually do ‘read White Eagle’. The second article will explore some of the contradictions in the White Eagle teaching, not in order to reconcile them but to explain why it is important they are there, and the third will consider whether part of the work that White Eagle has come to us to achieve is about changing the way in which we think.

For the benefit of posterity, I will begin with a few words about my own experience. I began to hear White Eagle regularly, live, as attendance at Children’s Services developed into attendance at the adult services in New Lands Chapel and – just on special occasions – London.

This childhood sense of a ‘treat’ associated with London may be what has kept my focus so unflinchingly on the city. But in both places, I remember how Minesta would rise to allow the trance address that came through her, and how she – or rather White Eagle –would close it. Of that more anon.

Those days of first hearing White Eagle were, I suppose, the early 1960s, and I thus had a decade and a half of listening to White Eagle ‘live’ (his final talk was given in 1976).

That’s only a fraction of the involvement I have had with White Eagle’s community as a whole, from whom I have heard a number of striking comments repeated, frequently. The first, from those who attended as well as from those who have heard White Eagle talks read out, is that when those present discuss them after, one individual seems to have heard a quite different talk from the next person.

Further, people reread and even read again the teaching and say that quite different points came to them each time. Again, more or less, they have heard a different talk. I have done this myself and of course part of it is subjective: we hear what we needed to hear on each occasion.

I think, though, it is more than just subjective response. People sometimes talk about the ‘white line effect’. That is, what White Eagle really said seems to have existed not in the lines of type but in the gaps between the lines. The comment could become a cliché, but the experience is so widespread I think it demands explanation.

Much as we like to talk about ‘white lines’, to talk of a written teaching is quite inaccurate. White Eagle gave talks: he never, in any shape or form, wrote a book or an article, although he must have overshadowed Minesta many, many times in her correspondence and in her own creative writing. Every book we have produced, from Illumination in 1937 to Group Consciousness in 2016, is a compilation from transcripts of talks – the three main groups being Sunday addresses, talks to committed students (‘Inner Teachings’) and talks to the Inner Brotherhood. There are of course other, smaller, sets of talks.

Somehow the sense of ‘the truth is in the white lines’ seems to have been carried through from the delivered talk to the printed transcript (originally, maybe, in the magazines Angelus (1936-50) and Stella Polaris (from 1951) – and right through, we trust, to the presentation of the teachings on a searchable database, which is ongoing as I write.

I suggest two explanations, neither of which is exclusive. The first is that the atmosphere of the talk somehow continues into the printed transcript – even though the punctuation is arbitrary, errors in shorthand may have crept into the text, local emphasis may be lost, and so on. I hope this is true, because White Eagle’s stenographers and copy editors have always held that hope.

We sense the love with which White Eagle considered his listeners. We sense the peace that had unfolded within the room. We sense the expectation of the listeners. The other, though, is that there may be something about the very construction of White Eagle’s habit of speech that subtly implies rather more than words convey.

To quote White Eagle himself, ‘There is always something beyond all earthly things, something elusive which cannot be caught, trapped and harnessed by the human mind. It is so free, so subtle that it can only be realised in your own heart.’ White Eagle on Festivals and Celebrations (originally The Way of the Sun) page 98. And this is very similar to Chandogya Upanishad ‘There is a light that shines beyond all things on earth, beyond us all, beyond the heavens, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in your heart.’

Many, many times, White Eagle has spoken of the difficulty of putting what he would call spiritual truths into a language the human intellect understands. But he does not fail in this; what I think he does is so express himself that the imagination has to be called in as well. Or, to put it more forthrightly, there is a demand on us that we listen with our hearts not our heads. Only to listen with our minds will leave us disappointed and even confused (see my second article).

Of course, the moment we do this we pick up nuances and intuitions that extend out beyond the printed page. If we are reading great literature, we do this with our imagination, but when we read White Eagle the human sympathies, and our voluntary aspiration, are opened up as well – partly by conscious decision, and partly because the very words demand it.

For this reason, continuous reading of a White Eagle talk, or book chapter, is always better than looking up references. As we read on, the imaginative opening that goes on internally extends, and we unfold. In many ways, as I shall explore in the third article, I think that part of the desire of the brethren in spirit, who gave White Eagle the task of messenger, was to put something before us that more or less forced us into this opening of consciousness, but by its very beauty assisted this with an invitation to raised awareness.

To listen to a White Eagle talk – most particularly, to listen when White Eagle was speaking, but even today with someone else reading it– is like a meditation. You may not even take in the words with your mind, yet an awareness grows in you.

I remember some advice that Minesta gave my mother, Ylana, before she gave her first address to a Sunday congregation. ‘All you really have to do’, she said, ‘is to stand up there on the platform and love them’. That really is true today, when talks are given, and it most certainly describes what we all felt when White Eagle was talking. In an unemotional way, he loved us.

Listening to White Eagle as a child, adolescent, and even young man my attention wandered – lots – but I never came out of a service or other meeting without the feeling of having been noticed and loved. I never dreamt, of course, what a precious memory those services would become.

I’ll give White Eagle the last word in the first article, hoping that what he says will explain what I believe was his endeavour, even though he seems more to be talking about meditation in the passage. ‘In the profound silence of the soul, all thoughts of the earth are stilled, the turbulent emotions subdued, and the mind set on thoughts of the heaven world. Then the divinity in the soul and the inner light of the Christ Spirit begins to stir … it is an inner feeling deep within ourselves which brings us closer to God. This feeling lies beneath all thought. It is an awareness of an enfolding love, a strengthening and an upholding power deep within our own being, and aligns our spirit with the cosmic life. We cannot think our way to this centre of truth. We can only feel it or realize it. In the profound silence, it is then that we reach the centre of truth and find God.

By Colum Hayward
© White Eagle Lodge, 2023

Further Reading...

Reading the Teachings (Part 2)