Dr Lee Blackburn
In 1930 Alice Bailey published a most revealing book entitled 'The Soul and its Mechanism.' Her stated goal in doing so was to set forth a sane appraisal of the constitution of man as viewed from two seemingly opposed philosophic and psychological view points – one the fruit of the labours of the scientific and materialistic investigations of the West, and the other the derived wisdom of long ages of introspection in the East. The former is of course largely the story of the study of the objective mechanism. The West has essentially rejected the idea of the existence of a soul or Self back of the material form, citing, in its defence, a lack of scientific proof to substantiate the claims. And, given the modus operandi of modern science, a method which has undoubtedly served it well, this is not perhaps an unreasonable position for it to take. The latter – the East – for the most part has focused upon that which the West has denied, the subjective entity, the soul or Self in man, and, whilst admitting the fact of form life, nevertheless has tended to scorn this material aspect. Alice Bailey sought to indicate in her book that both view points were at the same time correct and necessary, and yet, viewed in isolation, essentially inadequate. She desired to show that whilst the philosophies of the East and West apparently disagreed fundamentally in their world view, they were each, in fact, simply observing the same unified Whole and singular truth from differing perspectives.
As the primary vehicle for the expression of her envisioned synthetic point of view, and in order to demonstrate her ideas practically, Alice Bailey chose to concentrate upon the Western study of the glands of internal secretion – more commonly referred to these days as the endocrine glands – and their counterparts in subtle matter, the seven centres of force in man as proposed by the East. She presented the hypothesis, long held as correct in the East, that the two are in fact one integrated system; that the endocrine glands and their secretions are the precipitation and outer effect of the activity of one or other of the seven so-called chakras; agencies through which the Real man, the soul or Self, is said to work and function upon the physical plane.
The main purpose of this talk is to update, where possible, information pertaining to the endocrine glands in view of advancements and discoveries made in medical science since the publication of The Soul and Its Mechanism back in 1930. At that time Alice Bailey summarised the then known hormonal secretions and physiological effects of the glands, but made it clear that her primary concern and interest lay in an appraisal of their psychological and behavioural effects, thus linking them to what was known regarding the occult and psychological characteristics of the seven subtle force centres. It is fair to say that medical science has come a long way since then in revealing the hormonal secretions which emanate from the various glands, and we know far more about the consequences of these secretions so far as they affect the physical mechanism. What is less encouraging, though perhaps not surprising, is the far slower pace of advance being made in terms of understanding their psychological and behavioural effects.
The glands are a fascinating study, though much detail has been omitted from this talk due to the constraints of time; a general overview only is possible with deeper penetration into certain areas of specific occult interest. It should be noted that our discussion will be limited to a consideration of those glands and centres which are to be found above the diaphragm. With regard to those located below the diaphragm – the pancreas, the gonads and the adrenals – Alice Bailey was quick to point out in her book that a great deal was already known about the physiological and psychological consequences of the activity of these glands, that much of this information was easily accessible in print, and that since the centres below the diaphragm relate more definitely to the appetites and desires of the lower man, there was little need to investigate them too vigorously in a work primarily dedicated to the revelation of the soul in man; which Entity, the East confirms, works more consciously and specifically through the higher centres, or those resident above the diaphragm. We will adopt the same premise. Despite these unavoidable omissions, it is hoped that this talk will at least inspire many of you to read, or re-read, Alice Bailey's book and perhaps even investigate further the science of the glands and centres which are so fundamental to the study of man and esotericism in general. So let us now proceed to the glands themselves, providing a brief but necessarily incomplete overview of each in terms of physiology, psychology and, drawing upon the works of Alice Bailey and other occult investigators, those factors which are as yet unrecognised though perhaps even now hovering on the verge of exoteric discovery.
The pineal gland is located in the head in the centre of the brain between the two cerebral hemispheres at the back of the third ventricle. It is about the size of a pea and is named after its likeness to the pine cone. In 1930 this gland was known to contain pigment similar to that found in the retina of the eye, which speaks perhaps to the occult suggestion that it is the regressed precipitation of the 'third eye.' This 'third eye,' Rudolph Steiner tells us, was the primary organ of vision of primitive and ethereal man at a time so far distant that science has, as yet, no conception of it whatsoever. As man descended further into matter, we are told that the two physical eyes gradually developed, and this 'eye of spiritual vision,' through the law of involution, regressed in synchrony, to the point where now we have seemingly only an obscure and vestigial gland within the head as evidence of a once active visual organ. Alice Bailey had to report in 1930 that modern science knew practically nothing of the functioning of this gland, and its secretion – though at that time suspected – was entirely unknown. It had been suggested that this gland 'regulates our susceptibility to light, that...it has effect upon the sex nature...that it is related to brain growth and that its active functioning causes intellectual precocity...' Today, we are able to validate these propositions, and we have succeeded in isolating and identifying a discrete hormone secreted by this mysterious gland – melatonin. As far back as 1917 it was known that bovine pineal gland extract had the effect of lightening the skin of tadpoles, and yet it was only in 1958 that the pineal hormone melatonin was finally isolated by a group of researchers at Yale University, lead by Professor of Dermatology Aaron Lerner; they had hoped that this extract could be used in the treatment of skin diseases, a specific line of enquiry which unfortunately did not bear fruit. The secretion of melatonin is stimulated by darkness and inhibited by light – it is known as the 'hormone of darkness'' – and experiments have shown its influence on gonadal functioning, the modulation of wake-sleep patterns or circadian rhythms and seasonal functions, thus we have experimental validation of the tentative suggestions earlier proposed by science and summarised by Alice Bailey. The naturally high levels of melatonin found in children are believed to inhibit sexual development, and pineal tumours have been linked to precocious puberty – which we will have reason to consider further in just a moment.
Whilst researching this talk I had wondered about the effects of artificial light and of shift work in our modern society, and how these factors might impact upon the functioning of the pineal gland. Interestingly, it turns out that the World Health Organisation has named shift work as a probable cancer-causing agent! Part of the story may involve the normal antioxidant and tumour suppressant activity of melatonin, which is apparently inhibited as a consequence of shift work. Another interesting aside, and somewhat surprising, if not perversely amusing given the profound nature of our subject matter, is the fact that melatonin has been available – over the counter and without prescription – in the United States since the mid-1990's; it is considered neither a drug nor a pharmacological agent; according to the regulators it is nothing more than a harmless supplement.
Alice Bailey details a most interesting case of the abnormal functioning of the pineal gland in a young boy of five years of age. In this case we are given a clue and rare insight into the potential of this gland, which in no small measure strengthens the occult position taken on its significance. We are told that this child was taken to a German clinic suffering from eye trouble and headaches; he was 'very mature, and apparently had reached the age of adolescence. He was abnormally bright mentally, discussing meta-physical and spiritual subjects. He was strongly group-conscious and only happy when sharing what he had with others...he rapidly grew worse and died in a month. An autopsy showed a tumour of the pineal gland.' (Berman). This is most interesting when we consider the Eastern teaching that the pineal gland is the seat of the soul and is the direct physical agent of the highest head centre, reportedly located at a point just above the physical crown. Do we have then, in this peculiar and pathological case, some indication of the truth of the oriental assertion that the pineal gland and the soul are intimately related, and that this gland is in fact the seat of this mysterious subjective entity which, we are told, is in essence group conscious and concerned with the greatest good of the group, and not with the selfish plans and concerns of the separated self or individual man? We are advised by the Eastern philosopher that intuitive perception has its seat in the region of the pineal gland, and that the hallmark of true intuition reveals that which concerns the group and not the individual; it is said to carry on its wings the consciousness of non-separativeness and of universal inclusiveness; a revelation that concerns oneness and nothing else. Whilst exceptional individuals may emerge from time to time to evidence these qualities, for the most part the race as a whole is far from being focused in the region of the pineal gland, and therefore medical science may have some time to wait before a true picture of this gland's significance emerges into clear focus.
Next, let us turn to the pituitary gland, which is in fact embryologically and functionally two separate glands – one of glandular origin (the anterior pituitary) and one of neural origin (the posterior pituitary). This gland, again about the size of a pea, also resides in the head, at the base of the brain just behind the root of the nose. It is well protected within a bony cavity which is part of the architecture of the sphenoid bone. Alice Bailey had little to report on this gland, beyond indicating that an extract called pituitrin (a combination of oxytocin and ADH) had been isolated from the posterior pituitary. But medical science has been busy, and, believe it or not, we have isolated at least ten hormonal secretions emanating from this gland, and it is now considered by science to be the conductor of the whole endocrine orchestra. Furthermore, we now recognise that the pituitary is structurally connected to, and functionally governed by, the hypothalamus, thus indicating the profound underlying interrelationship and integration which exists between the nervous system and the endocrine system.
Briefly, of the hormones secreted from the anterior pituitary we have: growth hormone and thyroid stimulating hormone, each named in reference to their basic effects; adrenocorticotrophic hormone, otherwise known as ACTH, which stimulates the adrenal cortex to secrete corticosteroids; beta-endorphin, an endogenous pain-killer reportedly eighty times more potent than morphine; prolactin, a hormone with over three hundred known effects, including the stimulation of breast milk; the two gonadotropins – lutenizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone – which synergistically stimulate female ovulation; and, last but not least, melanocyte stimulating hormone, which influences skin pigmentation, appetite and sexual arousal.
The two hormones secreted by the posterior pituitary are: oxytocin, which stimulates uterine contraction during labour, and anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which has influence upon the regulation of salt and water balance and upon the resting tone of blood vessels. Both of these hormones are, in fact, initially synthesised in the hypothalamus, but are transported along nerve cells or neurones to the posterior pituitary where they are stored
to await secretion directly into the bloodstream. The pituitary gland is involved, in one way or another, in just about all of the body's physiological activities, either directly or indirectly via the combined neuro-endocrine system.
An interesting question relating to the pituitary gland, and one which arose in my mind some time ago whilst I was a medical student rotating through the obstetric department and the labour ward, concerns the use of synthetic oxytocin in modern medicine to induce labour at the discretion and the time of choosing of the medical team. Given the claimed occult implications of the exact time of birth from an astrological standpoint, and the significance of a neonates first breath, one wonders if the deliberate induction of labour has, in any way, the potential to interfere with these subtle and occult influences, perhaps even to the point of altering the destiny and life experience of a man? Of course the medical induction of labour is usually done for very good reason and in order to protect the health of both mother and child; nevertheless, this, and the increasing popularity and trend towards delivery by elective caesarian section present interesting points for occult discussion.
The pituitary is occulty recognised as the seat of the integrated personality and the control centre of the entire lower man. It is interesting to speculate upon the meaning behind this flood of discovery by science in relation to this once mysterious gland. Could it be that even in such a relatively short span of time the human race is rapidly awakening the pituitary body through the stimulated activity of its subtle correspondence and counterpart – the ajna centre. Might we concede perhaps that humanity is including amongst its ranks an increasing number of high-grade, intellectual and integrated personality types, thus furnishing the material and opportunity for medical science to make its rapid discoveries? It has been said that as a force centre or chakra becomes increasingly active, thus stimulating its physical plane counterpart, so too emerges a concurrent era of discovery and revelation in the realm of exoteric knowledge relating to that gland. Perhaps then the time is ripe for the pituitary to reveal its secrets, thus paralleling a rapid shift in the race consciousness, not least as a consequence of the potent effect of widespread modern day education and the increasing use of rapid communications systems - each symbolic of the unfoldment of intellect and integration within the race psyche and a fertile field for the emergence of the integrated personality or the pituitary type man. In Esoteric Psychology II (p.553) Alice Bailey herself suggested that 'the activity of the ajna centre will increase a great deal during the coming century, bringing with it its own attendant problems.' All of the signs at the present time suggest that her prediction was indeed a valid one.
Although the Thyroid gland is one of the major glands located above the diaphragm, in 1930 this gland was already well understood and appreciated. Therefore, beyond reiterating certain key points of interest, there will be little for us to add in a brief update such as this.
The thyroid is to be found at the front of the neck. It is essentially the gland of metabolism and of energy transformation, and it does this through the activity of two closely related hormones – triiodothyronine or T3, and tetraiodothyronine, more commonly known as thyroxine or T4. It is no exaggeration to say that all aspects of the human mechanism come under the profound influence of these hormones in one way or another, and an under or over-functioning of this gland leads to significant and systemic morbidity requiring treatment of one kind or another.
The thyroid gland also produces calcitonin, a hormone which assists in calcium homeostasis. Of greater importance however in effecting the body's calcium regulation is parathyroid hormone, secreted, as its name suggests, by the parathyroid glands. These glands are four in number, and are to be found embedded within the flesh of the thyroid itself, one at each of its four corners. Due to their recognised importance in the well being of the mechanism as a whole, every effort is made to preserve the parathyroid glands when portions of the thyroid are removed in the surgical treatment of hyperthyroidism.
Alice Bailey informs us that the thyroid was once a sex gland, and that in lower vertebrates it is still 'clearly connected with the ducts of the sexual organs.' In the East this suggested link between the sacral centre and the throat, and between the gonads and the thyroid, is well appreciated. In the processes of evolution, the energies expressed through the gonads, and through the preoccupation with sexual activity and procreation, are eventually raised to the throat and the thyroid, there to find expression in creative work of a different kind –
through the production of inspired art, music, drama and literature, amongst other outlets of creative expression. It is the premature transference of this energy which, we are told, has lead to an increase in the prevalence of hyperactivity of the thyroid gland, with its attendant physiological and psychological consequences. According to Alice Bailey, and surely a point of very real interest to all who are seeking consciously and sincerely to tread the Path of Spiritual Unfoldment, this premature transference can occur through a situation of enforced or misguided celibacy, or of an undue and unnatural inhibition of the sexual nature. The resultant pooling of energy in the region of the throat can lead to congestion, inflammation and metabolic upset, the energy having no true creative outlet – in the majority of cases – for its safe release. We are further assured that the activity of the throat centre is steadily increasing today, indicating the likelihood of much physiological and psychological transformation, whilst at the same time portending much in the way of difficulty and abnormality of expression.
Located in the upper chest, just in front of the heart, is the thymus gland. In 1930 Alice Bailey stated that 'Of the thymus gland, we know practically nothing, and it is one of the most mysterious of all. Like the pineal gland, it is regarded as a gland of childhood, but both as yet baffle investigation.'
Whilst retaining its status as a rather mysterious gland, the thymus has begun to yield some of its secrets – at least from a physiological standpoint – and, since the 1960's, it has been considered a specialised organ of the immune system. It is known to be the location for the education, maturation and even the wholesale elimination of T-lymphocytes – critical cells of the adaptive immune response.
The thymus is known to secrete at least four hormones, including thymosin – which is thought to help regulate the processes of T-cell maturation. Immature T-cells enter the thymus directly from the bone marrow, and undergo a rather exacting and elaborate process in order to test and ascertain their goal-fitness before being released into the blood circulation to detect and deal with specific antigens or non-self molecules which might pose a threat to the organism as a whole. In this training, each T-cell moves from the periphery of the gland to its centre, passing through a series of selection processes, the final stage being at the centre, where the final test of competence is administered before the successful candidates are sent out as fully-fledged agents of the immune system. Each T-cell is trained to recognise only one antigen, and in this regard the T-cell must pass the test of positive selection – that is to say, it must prove itself capable of detecting a specific antigen. More important is the test of negative selection, and each T-cell must demonstrate that it is not susceptible to the error of mistaking the body’s own tissue molecules for a foreign invader. Were it to do this, it could trigger a disastrous and inappropriate immune response and cascade wherein the body is induced to attack and destroy its own tissues – a potentially serious condition known as autoimmunity. Staggeringly only 1% of all T-cells make it through this vigorous selection process and eventually undertake active service in the body; the rest are eliminated at various points in the process. The occult similarity here with the hierarchical training of disciples, and the eventual emergence here and there of the trained adept or 'the efflorescence of a generation of enquirers' as one Eastern Teacher has put it, is startling. The analogies are several: we have the sequential induction of the candidate from the periphery to the centre of the Ashram, the planned training of the discriminative faculty and the repeated testing of this faculty in the field of experience, plus the ultimate goal of the ability to differentiate Self from not-self in order to work harmlessly, effectively and independently as an agent of the Plan in the three worlds. Of course, according to the East the thymus is the physical correspondence of the heart centre, and perhaps we should not be surprised to see in its functioning a likeness with the activities of the planetary heart centre – the Hierarchy itself.
Turning to the wisdom of the East, and viewing this gland and its force centre from the psychological aspect, there are in fact already many indications that this gland is slowly awakening in humanity as a whole. We are advised that when the thymus is active in the adult the quality of goodwill will become increasingly apparent, and a capacity for group consciousness and love of the group as a whole will emerge – expressed through various avenues of group service. It is clearly the case that these qualities are rapidly emerging today on the world stage and in every department of human interest. The group-life is increasingly making its presence felt in the psychology of the race.
Having now reviewed the major glands of the endocrine system resident above the diaphragm, it is clear that medical science has come a long way in a relatively short period of time – at least in the unraveling of the
mysteries of glandular physiology. This advance should not to be underestimated however, as these revelations have had a major impact upon countless millions of lives, many of which have been either saved or drastically improved by the hormonal discoveries of modern medicine and through the agency of the various methods of glandular manipulation now available to the modern physician. It could even be argued that the health of the mechanism itself has been improved in a general sense through a greater understanding of its needs, and a greater awareness of those factors which can lead to devitalisation and eventually to the diseased state. The East of course would caution the West not to put the cart before the horse, not to deal primarily and indeed exclusively with effects, reminding us that the true science of health, and the elimination of disease, lies ultimately in the correct functioning of the force centres and through the unfoldment of an enlightened and free-flowing consciousness. As we have seen, the psychological and behavioural effects of the glands are less well appreciated in the West, though, as modern psychology and modern medicine begin to integrate more effectively over the coming decades – as surely they must for mutual benefit – perhaps more will be revealed in this promising field of investigation. On many points the wisdom of the East still awaits confirmation in the eyes of the West, yet a more thorough psychological analysis of man in relation to his glands may confirm, before too long, many of its basic tenets. It may even lead the West eventually towards a closer inspection of the proposed force centres which are said to substand and condition the outer physical glands, and, which are, according to the East, themselves but agents of a greater Entity – the ultimate cause of all apparent and outer effects – the soul or Self in man.
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