Ascended Masters are enlightened beings whom many in the esoteric field believe have evolved beyond the need to reincarnate on earth and now act from a higher plane of existence to assist humans in their movement toward enlightenment and guide the race in its destined evolution. The concept of ascended masters was popularly introduced by Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, cofounder of the Theosophical Society, and described in some detail in her most important book, The Secret Doctrine. Blavatsky taught that both individuals and the human race were engaged in an upward evolutionary process. At the same time, she pictured a hierarchy of Masters headed by a being known as the Solar Logos. Those masters at the lowest level of the hierarchy regularly interacted with humanity. The Masters El Morya and Koot Hoomi have had a special role in the formation and guidance of the society. One of the early members of the society, A. P. Sinnett, also received regular communications from the masters that became the basis of two important theosophical texts, Esoteric Buddhism and the Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett.
Together, the masters constituted the Great White Brotherhood. A number of the spiritual leaders from past history were pictured as members of the hierarchy. For example, the person known as Jesus, revered as the fountainhead of Christianity, is believed to hold the office of Maitreya in the hierarchy. The work of the masters was championed by Blavatsky's successor Annie Besant and her colleague Charles W. Leadbeater, whose works further elaborated upon the nature and work of the masters.
Blavatsky also introduced the idea of ascension as a goal for humans, a concept made central of "I AM" Religious Activity, an organization founded by Guy W. Ballard, who further developed theosophical concepts. Ballard taught that it was possible through following the disciplines of the movement, including vegetarianism, to so purify the self that the individual need not die but could ascend to the next level of conscious existence. Ballard's own untimely death necessitated some revision of that ideal, and the natural process of death was integrated into the understanding of the process of ascension. Ballard is now believed to have assumed a position as an ascended master, as has Mark Prophet, the founder of the Summit Lighthouse (now the Church Universal and Triumphant ), a group similar to the "I AM."
Ballard regularly and publicly served as a messenger for a variety of Ascended Masters, especially Comte de St. Germain. At the same time, Alice A. Bailey claimed contact with a Master she generally called "The Tibetan," named Djwhal Khul. Both became models for a variety of people through the last half of the twentieth century who have claimed contact with and who have channeled messages from the masters. By the 1970s, over one hundred groups with roots in the Theosophical Society that either acknowledged the messages from the masters received by Blavatsky and/or were receiving new messages regularly from the masters were functioning in the English-speaking world. One group of channelers, beginning with George King, founder of the Aetherius Society, have claimed contact with extraterrestrial entities, who nevertheless have the same names as the members of the spiritual hierarchy originally described by Blavatsky. Flying saucer contactees, such as Dorothy Martin of the Association of Sananda and Sanat Kumara, described them as members of an outer space hierarchy.
During the 1970s, the practice of channeling messages from the Masters spread to a much larger audience as a result of the New Age Movement, a revitalization movement that spread through the Western theosophical groups and adopted channeling as one of its key activities. While New Age channelers received material from a variety of sources, many claimed to be in touch with the same ascended masters as Blavatsky, Bailey, and Ballard. Most notable among these is Benjamin Crème, who claimed not only to receive messages from the Master Maitreya, but that this particular entity had returned to human society and was walking among us. The emphasis upon ascended masters accompanied an emphasis upon individual ascension as the goal of the spiritual life. Ascension had been placed upon the agenda of the metaphysical community by Guy Ballard and the "I AM" Movement, but had not become a significant teaching until the New Age Movement began to wane in the 1990s.
The ascended masters have been likened to angelic beings in Christian folklore. Given the impersonal and transcendently remote deity of Western esoteric worldviews, the masters serve as a source of revelation and authority. They are seen as authoritative teachers of spiritual wisdom. They are highly revered for the knowledge they present, though as a rule they do not receive worship, a practice that does not have a prominent place in most esoteric groups. The masters have also been compared to the bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhist thought. They are compassionate beings dedicated to humanity and its uplift. Contemporary writers on ascended masters have nominated many of the spiritual exemplars of all religious traditions as having become ascended masters while also greatly expanding the number of ascended masters believed to be currently inter-acting with humanity.
Ballard, Guy W. [as Godfre Ray King]. Unveiled Mysteries. Chicago: Saint Germain Press, 1934.
Besant, Annie. The Masters. Adyar, India: The Theosophist Office, 1912.
——. The White Lodge and Its Messengers. Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1931.
Crème, Benjamin. The Reappearance of the Christ and the Masters of Wisdom. London: Tara Press, 1980.
Garver, Will I. Brother of the Third Degree. Halcyon, Calif.: Halcyon Temple Press, 1894, 1929.
Leadbeater, Charles W. The Masters and the Path. Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925.
Prophet, Elizabeth Clare. The Great White Brotherhood in the History and Religion of America. Los Angeles: Summit University Press, 1976.
Sinnett, A. P. Esoteric Buddhism. London: Trubner, 1883.
——. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1924.
Stone, Joshua David. The Ascended Masters Light the Way: Beacons of Ascension. Sedona, Ariz.: Light Technology Publishing, 1995.