The great sixth Hermetic Principle the Principle of Cause and Effect embodies the truth that Law pervades the Universe, that nothing happens by Chance, that Chance is merely a term indicating a cause existing but not recognised or perceived, and that phenomena are continuous without break or exception.
The Principle of Cause and Effect underlies all scientific thought, ancient and modern, and was enunciated by the Hermetic teachers in the earliest days. While many and varied disputes have since arisen between the many schools of thought, these disputes have been principally upon the details of the operations of the Principle, and still more often upon the meanings of certain words. The underlying Principle of Cause and Effect has been accepted as correct by practically all thinkers worthy of the name. To suppose otherwise would be to take the phenomena of the Universe from the domain of Law and Order and to relegate them to the control of the imaginary something which men have called "Chance".
There is in reality no such thing as pure chance. Webster defines the word: "a supposed agent or mode of activity other than a force, law or purpose; the operation or activity of such an agent; the supposed effect of such an agent; a happening; fortuity; casualty, etc." But a little consideration will show you that there can be no such agent as "Chance" in the sense of something outside of the Law something outside of Cause and Effect. How could there be something in the phenomenal Universe which acts independently of its laws, order and continuity? Such a something would be entirely independent of the orderly trend of the Universe, and therefore superior to it. We can imagine nothing outside of the Law without also being outside THE ALL, because THE ALL is the LAW in itself. There is no room in the Universe for anything outside, and independent of, Law. The existence of such a something would render all Natural Laws ineffective, and would plunge the Universe into chaotic disorder.
A careful examination will show that what we call "chance" is merely an expression relating to obscure causes that we cannot perceive or understand. The word is derived from a word meaning "to fall" (as in the falling of dice), the idea being that the fall of the dice are merely a "happening" unrelated to any cause. And this is the sense in which the term is generally employed. But when the matter is closely examined, it is seen that there is no chance whatever about the fall of the dice. Each time a die falls and displays a certain number, it obeys a law as infallible as that which governs the revolution of the planets around the sun. Back of the fall of the die are causes, or chains of causes, running back further than the mind can follow. The position of the die in the cup, the amount of muscular energy expended in the throw, the condition of the table, etc., are all causes, the combined effect of which can be seen. But behind these seen causes are chains of unseen preceding causes, all of which had a bearing upon which face of the die was uppermost when it came to rest.
If an "honest" die be cast a great number of times, it will be found that the numbers shown will be about equal, i.e. there will be an approximately equal number of one-spot, two-spot, etc., faces ending uppermost. Toss a penny in the air, and it may come down either "heads" or "tails"; but make a sufficient number of tosses, and the numbers will tend to even up. This is the operation of the law of average. But both the average and the single toss come under the Law of Cause and Effect, and if we were able to examine into the preceding causes, it would be clearly seen that it was simply impossible for the coin to fall other than it did in the circumstances at the time. Given the same causes, the same results will follow. Nothing ever "happens" without a cause or, rather, a chain of causes.
Some confusion has arisen in the minds of persons considering this Principle from the fact that they were unable to explain how one thing could cause another thing, i.e. be the "creator" of the second thing. As a matter of fact, no "thing" ever causes or "creates" another "thing". Cause and effect deals merely with "events". An "event" is "that which comes, arrives or happens, as a result or consequent of some preceding event".
No event "creates" another event, but is merely a preceding link in the great orderly chain of events flowing from the creative energy of THE ALL. There is a continuity between all events, precedent, consequent, and subsequent. There is a relation existing between everything that has gone before and everything that follows.
A stone is dislodged from a mountainside and crashes through the roof of a cottage in the valley below. At first sight, we may regard this as a chance effect, but when we examine the matter we find a great chain of causes behind it. There was the rain which softened the earth supporting the stone and which allowed it to fall; there was the influence of the sun and previous rains, etc., which gradually disintegrated the piece of rock from a larger piece; there were the causes which led to the formation of the mountain, and its upheaval by convulsions of Nature; and so on, ad infinitum.
Then we might follow up the causes behind the rain, etc. And we might consider the chain of events leading to the existence and placement of the roof. In short, we should soon find ourselves involved in a mesh of cause and effect too complex for our minds to comprehend.
Just as a man has two parents, four grand-parents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on until after twenty or so generations the numbers of ancestors comes to over a million, so it is with the number of causes behind even the most trifling event or phenomenon such as the passage of a tiny speck of soot before your eye.
It is not an easy matter to trace the bit of soot back to the early period of the world's history when it formed part of a massive tree-trunk which was afterward converted into coal, and so on, until as a speck of soot it passes before your vision on its way to other adventures. As a mighty chain of events, causes and effects brought it to its present condition, so this is but one of a chain of events which will go on to produce other events hundreds of years from now.
One of the series of events arising from the tiny bit of soot was the writing of these lines, which caused the typesetter to perform certain work, the proof-reader to do likewise, and will arouse certain thoughts in your mind and that of others, which will in turn affect still others, and so on, and on beyond the ability of man to think further and all from the passage of a tiny bit of soot.
All this shows the relativity and association of all things, and the further fact that "there is no great, there is no small, in the mind that causeth all".
Stop to think for a moment. If a certain man had not met a certain maid, away back in the dim period of the Stone Age, you who are now reading these lines would not be where you are. And if, perhaps, the same couple had failed to meet, we who write these lines would not now be here.
And the very act of writing on our part, and the act of reading on yours, will affect not only the respective lives of yourself and ourselves, but will also have a direct or indirect affect upon many other people now living and who will live in the ages to come. Every thought we think, every act we perform, has its direct and indirect results which fit into the great chain of Cause and Effect.
We do not wish to enter into a consideration of Free-Will, or Determinism, in this work. Among the many reasons is the principal one that neither side of the controversy is entirely right in fact, according to the Hermetic Teachings, both sides are partially right. The Principle of Polarity shows that both are but Half-Truths the opposing poles of Truth. The Teachings are that a man may be both Free and yet bound by Necessity, depending upon the meaning of the terms, and the height of Truth from which the matter is examined. The ancient writers express the matter thus: "The further the creation is from the Centre, the more it is bound; the nearer the Centre it reaches, the nearer Free is it".
The majority of people are more or less the slaves of heredity, environment, etc., and manifest very little Freedom. They are swayed by the opinions, customs and thoughts of the outside world, and also by their own emotions, feelings, and moods. They manifest no Mastery worthy of the name. They indignantly repudiate this assertion, saying, "Why, I certainly am free to act and do as I please I do just what I want to do", but they fail to explain whence arise the "want to" and "as I please". What makes them "want to" do one thing in preference to another; what makes them "please" to do this, and not that? Is there no "because" to their "pleasing" and "wanting"? The Master can change these "pleases" and "wants" into others at the opposite end of the mental pole. He is able to "Will to will", instead of to will because some feeling, mood, emotion or environmental suggestion arouses a tendency or desire within him to do so.
The majority of people are carried along like the falling stone, obedient to environment, outside influences, and internal moods, not to speak of heredity, environment, suggestion, and the desires and wills of others stronger than themselves, carrying them unresistingly along without the exercise of the Will. Moved like pawns on the chessboard of life, they play their parts and are laid aside in a box after the game is over.
But the Masters, knowing the rules of the game, rise above the plane of material life and, placing themselves in touch with the higher powers of their nature, dominate their own moods, characters, qualities and polarity, as well as the environment surrounding them, and thus become Movers in the game instead of pawns Causes instead of effects. The Masters do not escape the Causes of higher planes, but fall in with the higher laws, and thus master circumstances on the lower plane. They thus form a conscious part of the Law, instead of being mere blind instruments. While they serve on the Higher Planes, they Rule on the material plane.
But, on higher and on lower, the Law is always in operation. There is no such thing as chance. The blind goddess has been abolished by Reason. We are able to see now, with eyes made clear by knowledge, that everything is governed by Universal Law that the infinite number of laws are but manifestations of the One Great Law the LAW which is THE ALL. It is true indeed that not a sparrow drops unnoticed by the Mind of THE ALL that even the hairs on our head are numbered, as the scriptures have said. There is nothing outside of Law; nothing that happens contrary to it.
And yet, do not make the mistake of supposing that man is but a blind automaton far from that. The Hermetic Teachings are that man may use Law to overcome laws, and that the higher will always prevail against the lower, until at last he has reached the stage in which he seeks refuge in the LAW itself, and laughs the phenomenal laws to scorn. Are you able to grasp the inner meaning of this?