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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s .Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. Art. Literature.
Laurie Searl Marketing.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . Suite 700. address State University of New York Press. Albany. Occultism—History.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. art. mechanical. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. literature. paper) 1. 90 State Street. cm. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. For information. 2. Occultism in art. Title. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. BF1411. Authur.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. magnetic tape. Anne M. p. 3. recording. NY 12207 Production. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. electrostatic. photocopying. Occultism in literature. I. Series. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. II. ALBANY © 2004 Arthur Versluis Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 .Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. Rosicrucian. Pansophic.
viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. Art. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .
Milosz. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. O.. art. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. literature. traditions. D. C. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. V. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. Hence.P re f a c e Restoring Paradise began as an introduction to the literary and religious history of Western esotericism and was meant for a general audience. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. S. At the suggestion of an early reader. and consciousness itself. In writing this book. and Cecil Collins. I include a short annotated bibliography to suggest further study for those interested in the fields that I here introduce in the course of making my case about literature and art as means of esoteric transmission in the West. At the very least. but the work’s focus remains Western. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. H. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. ix . figures. but as the book took shape. Lewis. but in keeping with my original impetus. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument.
to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. from Trilogy. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. and to the editors of Gnostica 3.. 1985). the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble.D. 2001). © 1944 by Oxford University Press. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H.). copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. Poems. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson.D. including the adapted cover illustration. Milosz. and to Studies in Spirituality. xi . (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. 1994) and Meditations. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. V.). from Trilogy. each of whom helped to make it a better work. 1997). My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. de L.D. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters.
2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. These are not. however. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. even apophatic mysticism. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. Yet for this to take place. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. figures. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. and otherwise. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. are now appearing. artistic. literary. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992).1 Here.I n t ro d u c t i o n : I n i t i a t o r y Tr a n s m i s s i o n and the Imagination We find ourselves today at the edge of new vistas in scholarship. and metaphysical or transcendent. religious. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. or conveying spiritual experiences. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. and perhaps even more critically. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. In this book. but also. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. mutually 1 .3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. provoking.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. and one that has ramifications in many directions. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. the study of mysticism.
Christian theosophy. above all this is a book about knowing. religious. or gnosis. mysticism. it is to consider the complex ways that language and image have worked and continue to work in both Western and Eastern traditions in order to generate. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. including alchemy. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. Freemasonry. Christian gnosis. Not at all. theosophy. Rosicrucianism. But the time for such biases is past. do have certain characteristics in common. Yet these traditions. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. that is what this book is about. or convey spiritual awakening. magic. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. . this must be our primary focus. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. In particular. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. provoke. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. astrology. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. and social histories. left out of literary. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. however. however disparate. philosophical. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. Rather. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. In essence. magic. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. of course. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. or Hermeticism. Like the koan. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. astrology. examples of it include alchemy. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. Undoubtedly. Jewish Kabbalah. Here. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. and about how we come to know.
and there are many treasures to be found there. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. we find on the social front. which is often seen either as outdated. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. when we look at Western societies. Western esotericism is. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. in my view.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. Thus. At the same time on the religious front. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. and cults existed side by side. To navigate one’s way through these movements. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. the Western esoteric traditions. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. of course. when a panoply of religions. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. despite their often almost bewildering variety. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. and to understand their patterns and meaning. proliferating wildly. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. therefore. In many respects. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. sects. By looking more closely at the origin. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. a vast field. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. and to alternative forms of spirituality. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. . For as we will see. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. And underlying these is. what their predecessors are. our time resembles the early Christian era. about reading the stars. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. nature. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged.
as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. And when we read a great poem.’ Unexamined here. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. and heaven. By contrast. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. we feel as someone else feels.’ itself a metaphor for our time. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. also about union. minerals and stars. so too there are great readers. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. Likewise. reading here guides one toward gnosis. What is more. is much deeper than it might at first appear. of course. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. But we can at least begin by considering how reading is largely regarded today as nothing more than the accumulation of information through decoding writing—indeed. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. The view of reading and literature that I have just articulated is far from the more widespread contemporary assertion that writing and reading are merely about the exchange of information through signs. The word gnosis. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. When we read a novel. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. Greek in origin. when we read the works of an Emerson. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. why do we travel with . there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. or spiritual knowledge. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. we have developed machines that ‘read. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. but with consciousness itself. and will require much elaboration. In every experience of literature. we enter into another’s world. purgatory. and ultimately with the divine. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. but can be transmuted. If there are great writers. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. refers to spiritual knowledge. and each requires the other. imaginatively enter into different lives. in other words.’ that is. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. however. The mystery of reading is.
I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. drama. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. we understand. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. and essays. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later.” I am extending the word beyond its usual implication: the canonical (or noncanonical) series of more or less conventional authors from Homer to Dante and Chaucer to Milton. Rather. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. fiction. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. This experience of union between author and reader I have alluded to is a literary and secularized form of what we find in Western esotericism. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. What is more. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. not about accumulating more information. like so many others. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. We make connections. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. and that all of what we today call literature owes a very great deal to what I will call here the “mysteries of the word. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. and when we read them. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. where we are from. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . and where we are going.
including people. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. as if catalogic. indeed. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. and everything becomes a matter of techné. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. but for connection and union.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. people most of all. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. everything. the way we see the world. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. in that to follow such a path means that one has to leave behind modern objectifying preconceptions of how one is separate from nature and the divine. from which we believe that we are separate. it suffuses our language. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. finally. In this respect. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. By contrast. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. or manipulation. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. quantitative. nature.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. Those studying the humanities. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. most notably Western esoteric traditions. Certainly Western esoteric traditions were prevalent at the beginning of the modern era: contemporaneous with the emergence of modern rationalist science were completely different kinds of sciences. but also the even more primal act of knowing. But now that we can see written in the ruined face of the looted earth around us the failure and bankruptcy of a mechanistic and exploitive worldview. living divorced from humanity. grounded in spirituality. and the divine. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. and particularly literature. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. one based not on division but on union.
The reader. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. Dutch scholar Wouter Hanegraaff demonstrated that late twentiethcentury New Age movements and individuals (at least the somewhat less intellectually frothy) were frequently indebted to earlier currents of Western esotericism. however. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. and groups in Western European and North American history. and consciousness. And in North America as well. literature. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. But the fact remains that there are also figures. In Western Europe. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. one de facto excludes many authors or groups whose works might be categorized under the heading mysticism or gnostic—except if they display an interest in. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. so too that choice still exists today. crystals. alone with an author. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. and so to maintain clarity. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. and so forth. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. French scholar Antoine Faivre emphasized the word esotericism—as opposed to esoterism—and developed a set of largely cosmological characteristics that he saw as characterizing most Western esoteric individuals and groups from the Renaissance into the early twentieth century.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. . we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. works. Indeed. And indeed. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities.6 Subsequently.
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say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.
I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual
admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an
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emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-
but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. then it is a breakthrough not out of. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. At one time. . kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. but into conventional consciousness . The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. through language and image.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. joined to a view of Zen Buddhism as a way of escaping the pollution of society and language back to an original pureness beyond language. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. . This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. but this is by no means to say that therefore there is no such thing as nonconceptual or transcendent knowledge unmediated by language or image.” Victor Sogen Hori argues that it is mistaken to hold that koans are a means for ascending out of thought and language into a state of pure consciousness. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough.”11 This is. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. not beyond it. Esoteric literature and art—of which koans are in fact an example—may be seen as both pointing toward and as an expression of cosmological or metaphysical gnosis. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. From this viewpoint. in his Shobogenzo. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. I believe. however.
the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. as I will propose here. This is not to say that the West had or. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. The koan derives its name from a judicial term.12 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E ‘mysticism’ to attempt to legislate mystical or gnostic knowledge out of existence by claiming that the gnostic is merely entering or deploying another form of conceptual language. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. But in fact we know from our own experience as readers that literature is a means by which we participate in an intermediate world or mesocosm created by an author. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. for that matter. is there a third interpretation that lies somewhere between these two? Such questions are important because the imaginative faculty is so vital to creating and to understanding literary and artistic works. Rather. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. Rather. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. I am arguing that in the West. I believe. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. and thus also to the individual. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. as in individual daydreams. T H E E S O T E R I C I M A G I N AT I O N The word imagination of course derives from image. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. and in fact represents a test for the neophyte: one has to realize the nondual truth that it represents and have this confirmed by a master’s judgment. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. Like the koan. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. By . What makes Western esotericism different above all. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. frustrating though this may be. as means of initiation.
Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. Imagination. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. For example. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. Obviously. the images.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. This work is circumscribed. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies.12 As a result. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. guide. the action by the act of reading or viewing. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. in other words. For instance. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. We might even go so far as to suggest that an expressed or implied intent on the part of an esoteric work’s creator is a defining characteristic of such works: it forms a kind of ritual initiatory boundary. it is not for a general readership. literary or otherwise. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. it is for the few. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience.
to understand them. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. 2. and nothing less. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. and 3.” The gnostic. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader.’ only that one has to make the effort to understand an esoteric work as much as possible sympathetically from an imaginative entry into its realm.14 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E enter into the work and imaginatively undergo the process of awakening to the hidden realm that he is describing. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. not one’s own. Sympathetic readers.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. in other words. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. Initiates. I am arguing here that readers must belong to at least the second of these two categories in order to genuinely begin to study and understand esoteric works. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. graspable solution to a koan. This is a pervasive problem today because literary theoretical conventions tend to be hostile toward the very imaginative sympathy without which the reader is divorced from the work and cannot enter it but can only analyze it from without. who enter into a work imaginatively. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. When Jacob Böhme wrote that his writings were not for those hostile to them (who would be better off not looking at them at all) he meant that the works are indeed esoteric. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. and this too presents problems. but here a new magical earth is brought . But there is a third perspective. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. which is what I am proposing here. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. Yet if we answer “yes. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia.
since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. then. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. The realm of the imagination. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. What is more. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. in sum. but resides in a continuum between the two. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. is by its very nature one of co-creation. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. In other words. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. This intermediate or mesocosmic state is precisely what allows Pordage’s treatise to be initiatory for the reader: his work is a guide to his own gnostic experience. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. to the divine power within that creates. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. This. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. . but it opens the same possibility up to the reader because the paradisal or magical earth can also be created in the reader who undergoes the same process of awakening.
however. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. And to find these themes.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. we are not so concerned with surveying the entirety of this period—a monumental task best left to others— but with the defining themes that will emerge again and again in later times. From relatively early on. what we may call a 17 . The other kind of writing. Here. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. This. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. needless to say. we must begin in antiquity. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. death. and resurrection. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. and. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. is profoundly different. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. the Book of Revelation. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible.
Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. be it scientific. for instance. Of course. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. . not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. The gnostics. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. an ahistorical. symbolic. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. we can see how anomalous it is. that one can easily list them. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. as throughout world religious traditions. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. and indeed. Consider. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. and mythic. the Word was not literal but spiritual. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. By contrast. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. so rare—in fact. or technological. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. multilayered approaches. of course. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. In Christianity. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. revelatory emphasis. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. or historical. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. expressing a view characteristic of the mysteries more generally when he had Socrates say that writing is problematic at best because the written word cannot explain itself and is easily subject to misinterpretation.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. and on the other. on the other hand. legal. should it be ahistorical. literal. the development of Buddhism.
and who else was accepted as orthodox. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. Who was rejected as heretical. but of communication. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. however much their literalist opponents think differently. that is. one is in touch with inconceivable power. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. just . true pronunciation.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. These vibratory seeds human beings may contact or activate through spiritual practice and in this way be in touch with the powers that inform creation itself. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. a means not for one equal to convey information to another.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. asceticism. chiefly vowels. Likewise. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. who are worthy of it. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. the seeds of all things. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. but such an approach is not for everyone. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. and communion. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. here it is vertical. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. In general. For instance. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. and spiritual illumination. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes.
through images. The letters. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. we can see how these images fit rather well into the tradition: they represent again a means of invoking and ‘fixing’ the underlying powers or principles of creation itself. and contain within them the seeds of the perennial struggle in all three forms of monotheism between those who take the word literally and those who advocate gnosis. and we may recall that Dionysius the Areopagite devoted some effort to discussing how the divine may best be symbolized by unexpected and even grotesque images that keep us from mistaking a beautiful image for the thing itself. and macrocosmically.20 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E as Greek Christian mysticism drew upon Hebrew or Aramaic terms. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. and so forth. basilisks. are a means to creation’s redemption. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. thereby making this conflict inevitable. All of this is to suggest that there was in antiquity in Jewish and Christian esoteric circles a very widespread gnosis of language which was grounded in writing. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. so the letters were altered. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. which undoubtedly drew upon and incorporated elements of the Greek mystery traditions even as they differed from the Greeks in their emphasis upon writing down the mysteries and then writing down commentaries upon the previous writings. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. one finds that from the very beginning of our era the very same elements conduce also to a wide spectrum of gnoses and hence to angelic polytheism and to nontheistic gnosis in which the very concept of God is transcended. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. Letters and numbers. and so forth. such images represent divine aspects. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. inconceivable power would be set loose. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. as does the creation of images. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. then. paradoxically conveyed often through . but if the letters were properly restored. as principles of creation itself. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically.
” From the very beginning. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. “there is communion between soul and soul. of the mysteries tradition.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. In at least some respects. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep.” but not like an ordinary sleep. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. and image—the very means by which concepts are fixed to begin with! There are two more primary currents that fed into the Western esoteric traditions: Platonism and Hermetism. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues.22b) . as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. is self-evident. which were also about death and resurrection. out of which emerges a “holy Word.” (X. but share elements in common with all three. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition.” the “voice of the Light. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). Poimandres. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. tells him. There is no one author of the Hermetica.” the being. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. in symbols and myths. letter. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. in the first centuries of this era. presented in the form of dialogues. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. number.25). The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. “I know what you wish. “for I am with you everywhere. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one.
Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. mercurial quality to it. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. or direct knowledge of the divine. For from what we have said. It is. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. Like Hermes himself.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. Platonism. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. Christian esotericism. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. T H E F I E L D O F T H E I M A G I N AT I O N It is commonplace today to think of the imagination as a means of escapism— the word is roughly equivalent to daydreaming or to fantasy. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. and there is a witness to the revelation. However. the mystery traditions. yet not strictly philosophical either. they certainly intermingled. always there is a fluid. then. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. and . Indeed. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. but this revelatory quality differs markedly from what we see in Plato and bears far more in common with what we find in some Gnostic treatises of revelation. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. and Hermetism. what we find is something quite different.” “Active imagination” refers to the meeting of an individual and transcendent beings on an intermediate field that belongs completely neither to the transcendent nor to the mundane world. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. traditions. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion.
in other words. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. a little book sweet as honey. when he eats the book. off the Greek coast. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. and behold. questions. a mesocosm. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. and behold. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. where John meets. and the auditory part of the vision began. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. and does eat. an elder tells him to weep not. and where the earthly past.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). once introduced to this sequence. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . Although the vision has a beginning. and he interacts with them. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. when he weeps. and future are visible. And immediately I was in the spirit. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. and in the tenth chapter. However.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. turned. quite well known. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. There are. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . apparently visionary time. and only then. Then. he sees the twenty-four elders. but take place in their own time. present. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. he is told to eat. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. saw and heard these things. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. beginning with the Revelation to John. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and one sat on the throne. Yet interestingly. Rather. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. came the following: “After this I looked. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. John. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. mythology. a throne was set in heaven. I believe that literature. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. in the fourth chapter. of course. . John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. At one point. . a door was opened in heaven. or field of the imagination. Above all.
The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. Additionally. these elements lend themselves very much to an esoteric interpretation: the symbols and numbers represent a secret knowledge known by the few symbolically designated as the “woman in the wilderness. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. in other words. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. The Revelation. the very book that we are reading. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. and one hundred forty-fours. angels. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. of course. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. John is united with its knowledge. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. which he does. twelves.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens.12). the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. and finds it bitter in his belly. but sweet as honey on his lips. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. and we are given warnings at his account’s end that no one should add to or subtract from what is written in his book (22:18).9). And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity.” during these the end times. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. And then there is. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. we will recall. of course.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. John is given a little book to eat. the Book of Revelation of St. a gnostic encounter with elders. all remind us of the prior traditions. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. But for our purposes. In the tenth chapter. and Hermetism. Every aspect of life is altered. Taken together. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. and by eating the book. found in Judaism. there are “other books. Christian Gnosticism. and are in a sense initiates. One.13). it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. becoming symbolically charged.
and what is heard. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. including the two books of Enoch. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. at the mystical tradition. Of course. the fact that there were so many apocalyptic revelations during the beginning of the Christian era underscores the recognition that such revelations are inherent in . This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. profoundly symbolic numbers. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. it is an image. Yet because it became canonical. where an encounter may take place. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. words. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. at the Kabbalistic tradition. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. the Ascension of Isaiah. But such knowledge remains partly in the realm of division or objectification: there is a revelatory encounter between John and all the angelic figures of the vision. Rather. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. the Revelation does not stand alone. and what is seen. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. all of which belong to the apocrypha. seen by a seer. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. splendid earthly form: but again. and of James and of Adam. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. a hearer. At the same time.
how hieroeidetic a work is. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study.’ of participation. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. to make it one’s own. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. objectifying it. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. of being charged. and exists more for entertainment. a constellation of letters and numbers. In other words.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. or from exoteric to esoteric. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. without relevance to oneself. for although the Revelation is the most well known. more electric. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. often in a simple story. it is certainly not the only one. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. as wild as the book of Revelation. So it is with the story of Theseus. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. or one may enter into it—just as there is a range of approaches to such a work—so too there is a range of such works. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. And though we risk being burned. or put better. Esoteric literature. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. The analogy of electricity. we are drawn toward it. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. ranging from external to internal. There is an element of danger inherent in such proximity—those who come too close to the gods or angels may go mad or blind. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . to the transcendent. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. far more than may at first appear. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us.
ter, Ariadne, and a thread that led him out. The symbolism here is profound, and certainly reflects the ancient Mithraic mystery symbolism of the bull, the labyrinth of the world, and escape-rebirth. But perhaps we may adapt this symbolism to our own purposes, for when we consider the subject of gnosis, we too find ourselves in a labyrinth, and require some thread to guide us out. This thread is the topic of gnosis itself, for by exploring it, we will be far better prepared to understand the often bewildering variety of Western esoteric traditions. The word gnosis, because it is singular, implies that there is but one kind of gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. However, when we consider the range of religious literature, even that labeled “gnostic,” we seem to find a bewildering spectrum of gnoses. We might divide this spectrum into cosmological gnosis (insight into the hidden patterns in the cosmos), eschatological gnosis (insight into what transcends history and the cosmos), and metaphysical gnosis (insight into the divine), even though all of these may be seen as aspects of a single gnosis. And concerning metaphysical gnosis, or direct insight into the nature of the divine itself, we find two primary approaches that we may call visionary and unitive gnosis, corresponding to the via positiva and the via negativa discussed by Dionysius the Areopagite. The via positiva, or visionary approach, goes through images and the field of the imagination; the via negativa, or unitive approach, is the falling away of all images. It has become more or less commonplace, following Dionysius himself, to see the via negativa as superior to the via positiva. Dionysius writes that sacred revelation often proceeds through sacred images in which like represents like, while also using forms that are dissimilar, and even entirely inadequate and ridiculous (Cel. Hier. 140c). But he goes on to remark that a second way, of going beyond images entirely in the via negativa, is “more appropriate, for as the secret and sacred tradition has instructed, God is in no way like the things that have being, and we have no knowledge at all of his incomprehensible and ineffable transcendence” (Cel. Hier. 141a). What Dionysius observes here is extremely important, in particular his insistence on a secret and sacred tradition that the Divine completely transcends the realm of being. Dionysius’s observation—that God in no way resembles the things that have being—combats a tendency that, as we have already noted, is common to the traditions of the Book: taking writing literally. Literalism corresponds to what in Judaism was called “idolatry”: it reduces the Divine to human concepts that can be manipulated. This tendency may also be called “objectification,” and is a common function of language more generally. For language by its nature can separate us from what we are discussing: we objectify the Divine just as we objectify all that surrounds us, including nature and other people. But this process of objectification inherently separates us from what we see in this way: the very word God becomes a barrier to experiencing what that word means.
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In other words, gnostic knowledge is fundamentally different from ratiocinative knowledge, and the language to express gnosis must reflect this difference. Ratiocinative (from ratio, measure between things) knowledge belongs to the realm of division into subject and object: ‘I’ discuss ‘that.’ Such is the basis for modern science, and ratiocinative knowledge can be widely disseminated as information or data. By contrast, gnosis belongs to a secret or intimate tradition and cannot be widely disseminated as information because it does not belong to the realm of information and division at all, but instead to what transcends division. The scientific or ratiocinative path moves toward ever greater data about what is external; the gnostic path moves toward ever greater intimacy with what transcends both internal and external. Gnosis, then, is not at all a matter of ‘I’ discussing ‘that,’ but of going beyond the very division between ‘I’ and ‘that.’ The question, of course, is how one moves toward gnostic knowledge, and the answers to this question in the West comprise the Western esoteric traditions. The essential division offered by Dionysius the Areopagite between the via positiva and the via negativa helps us begin to discuss these answers in a schematic way, not because these two ways are at all opposed to each other, but because they illuminate each other. Indeed, they correspond rather closely to what we see in the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition, where visualization and a plethora of imagery express their own transcendence. The Prajnaparamita Sutra, with its verses on sheer transcendence of all that is sensory, does not invalidate but expresses the ultimate meaning of the countless Buddhist images often in the very hall where it is chanted. Likewise, in the Western esoteric traditions, one finds a vast range of imagery and means, but these are generally seen within the traditions as an expression of what transcends them. The problem here, and in language itself, is that it is all too easy to regard words or images as if they were the thing itself, to ‘fix’ or ‘congeal’ the inconceivable. This is a particularly likely problem when there is no widespread emphasis on the transcendent, as there is within Buddhism, or any continuous lineage of masters or teachers who could guide seekers or initiates. The Western esoteric traditions have largely remained catch-as-catch-can, defined perhaps best by the precarious relationship between an author and a reader through the medium of the book. And the Gnostic Basilides evidently recognized this, for in one of the only fragments attributed to him, he writes of the ineffable transcendent nothing, and notes that “what is called by a name is not absolutely ineffable, but it is not, for the truly ineffable is not ineffable, but ‘above every name which is named’ [Eph. 1.21] . . . Names are inadequate . . . Instead, by understanding without speech one must receive the properties of the things named” (Hipp. Ref. VII.viii). Actual direct experience of the transcendent is far more important than simply knowing the words. Basilides held that he belonged to a secret lineage that ran from Jesus to Matthias to himself, and primary in their revelation was nothingness, or
absolute transcendence. According to his rather bitter opponent Hippolytus, Basilides wrote that before the cosmos, “nothing” existed, “not matter, nor substance, nor the insubstantial, nor an absolute, nor a composite, not conceivable, or inconceivable, not sensible, not devoid of sense, not man, angel, or a god, nothing that has a name or is cognized by intellect” (Ref. VII.ix). Basilides’s emphasis—throughout what little we still have, quoted by Hippolytus from Basilides’s treatises—was consistently on sheer transcendence beyond the medium of human language, and corresponds to the via negativa of Dionysius the Areopagite. Indeed, given the series of negations here that very much resemble those of the Prajnaparamita Sutra in Buddhism, it is not surprising that Basilides is reputed to have been influenced by Buddhism. However, Basilides is not alone in his emphasis on the inconceivability of gnosis, its sheer transcendence of all ratiocination. So too Epiphanes wrote of the Gnostics that “The earliest originating principle was inconceivable, ineffable, and unnameable” (Ref. VI.xxxiv); and Marcus, during a Gnostic Eucharist, reportedly offered a chalice to a woman during the consecration, then received it back from her and said, ‘Grant that the inconceivable and ineffable Grace which existed prior to the universe, may fill thine inner man, and make abound in thee the gnosis of this grace, as she disseminates the seed of the mustard-tree upon good soil’ ” (Ref. VI.xxxv). A similar emphasis is to be found in Dionysius the Areopagite, in his treatise on the Divine Names, for instance, when he remarks that God is beyond all names and creatures, “transcendently and supernaturally, far above creatures, above their being and above their nature” (956B). He continues that “no unity or trinity, no number or oneness, no fruitfulness, indeed nothing that is or is known can proclaim that hiddenness . . . of the transcendent Godhead which transcends every being. There is no name for it and no expression” (981a). Paradoxically, by maintaining an emphasis on the ineffability of the divine, the Gnostics also maintained a via positiva of esoteric words, letters, numbers, and images. But this linguistic mysticism existed within the context of the absolute transcendence that it in fact manifests. In other words, letters, numbers, and images emerge out of the unbegotten, and represent the hidden patterns and harmonies of the cosmos that, by ‘following back,’ inevitably in turn lead one to the ineffable. It is well known that there are Hebrew systems of transforming letters into their numerical meanings, but what is perhaps less remarked upon is that there was an esoteric Greek tradition of such transformations too, probably carried over from Pythagorean and Neoplatonic sources. Thus we find the Gnostic Marcus maintained that the number of Jesus is 888, that the number of the dove is 801, and that the body of truth is composed of letters, the head by Alpha and Omega, the neck by Beta and Psi, and so forth. Sacred numbers, letters, and images reveal the esoteric forming powers of the cosmos. Each letter, according to this tradition, is produced by a particular
For to read the metalanguage of the cosmos is truly to read the Book of Life—a figure for the hidden energies or powers that inform life both in the cosmos and in ourselves. embody. and in religious experiences. This name was composed of four syllables. words. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. and the entire name had thirty letters. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. in dreams. but different aspects of the same way. in the Gospel of Philip. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. and numbers emerge in. sacred images. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. As we ‘read’ these images. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. or aeon. although we refer to them by the same names. we participate in what they represent. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. not opposite or even complementary ways. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. we become intimate with them. or one will .xxxvi). Indeed. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. we find plays on naming and namelessness.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others.”3 In other words. and reveal transcendence. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. and its light “never sets. VI. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. and we enter into a realm where negation and affirmation are both recognized to be at once valid and invalid ways of expressing what transcends them both. This linguistic mysticism was represented in Gnostic practice by a secret initiation that consisted in the whispering of holy words of power into the ear of one who had been tested. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. which is of a totally different order. the first of which had four letters.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. there is earthly marriage. For instance.
one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. This is as true for the canonically accepted authors such as Clement of Alexandria or Dionysius the Areopagite as it is for Valentinus or Basilides. The world has become the aeon. is. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. but is free in life and in death. for such a one the world is transparent. not hidden in the darkness and the night. gnostic paradigms. Rather. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. one has already experienced the mysteries for oneself by ‘reading’ and receiving the truth in the images—not only the images of sacred words or symbols. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. indeed. the unnameable. Here naming refers. I do not mean to suggest that there is a direct current of influence running from relatively obscure works like the Gospel of Philip or the lost writings of Basilides into medieval and modern times. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. one finds a gnosis of the divine names.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. elusive. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names.”4 In other words. but rather. not to arbitrary designations. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. divided consciousness. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. for the aeon is fullness for him. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. evokes. characteristic ways of understanding. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. . my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. The cosmos is no longer opaque. when one dies. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. The nameless and the named are not divided. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. but its inseparable companion. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images.
What is more. More intimately. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. They are only the sensible expression. On the lowest level. A fourth characteristic is imagery. Here. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances.32 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E From the gnosis of naming emerges a range of related mysteries. a third characteristic. of course. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. and therein we obtain the pure key. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. without masters. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. nor wholly from without. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. in his own degree. and are visible in major European literary works. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. however. to which I have already devoted some study. on which conventional mathematics is founded. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. . .”6 There is in Saint-Martin’s work a peculiar kind of mystical mathematics from which it is evident that here is indeed an order of knowledge entirely different from the merely quantitative. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. everyone. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. separated from the subject who sees. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. Out of the gnoses of numbers. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. woven together into a . Even more intimately yet. which is the mystery of words and of the book. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. which all proceed from the one only essence . letters. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. my dear brother. of the different properties of beings. By contrast. including Piers Ploughman. whether visible or intellectual. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. According to rational consciousness.
whether. By following the courses of Western esotericism. Egyptian. Roman. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. Greek. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. Thus we can see the outlines of the mysteries of the word and the book that in turn give rise to the Western esoteric traditions. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. Jewish and Christian and Greek. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. images. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. but also to convey it. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. words. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. taken together. from antiquity to the present. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. . that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. often do not hold at all. in one form or another. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. letters. words. Its mysteries of names. to become it. numbers. and traditions best express his understanding. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. Christian. we will seek to trace the essential characteristics of each current and see whether or not at heart Western esotericism as a whole exists on the border between religious and literary experience. and images.
The troubadour. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. sees her (or him. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. 35 . and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. of course. The knight in swearing fealty to his lord is engaged in a social relationship that can also have spiritual implications: to act properly as a knight is also to fulfill one’s higher responsibility as a warrior for the divine. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. in giving honor to his beloved. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty.2 H i s t o r i c a l C u r re n t s DIVINE SERVICE: C H I VA L R Y A N D T H E T R O U B A D O U R S It is. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity.
and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. is no. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. for example. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. Much more likely that here.E. I think. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. never explicitly discussing. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. particularly the chivalric tradition. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. likewise.36 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Thus there is implicitly a dual quality to much of the writing associated with each of these traditions. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. even surreptitious. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. Of course. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. that is to say. But when we look at these movements as a whole. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. . or love’s faithful. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. we can see in the poetry of the time that there was a mysterious amorous language that referred both to carnal and divine love at once. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. Instead. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery.
occupying a middle ground between these. those who did not take sides. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. for the name disappears. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. but there is another source. there is no need to erase it. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. He found that a man named Flegetanis.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. noble angels. we are told. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. both pagan and Christian. that is. but God may have taken them back. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. and to whom God sends his angel. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. Hearing this. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. In any event. then the chivalric life is his one desire. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. . it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. For. teacher of Eschenbach. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. Naturally.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. For instance. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. and this is the mystery of names. worthy. whence had come the Grail. and has a rich reward in heaven. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. a hermit. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking.
There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. we will recall. in particular. The Grail. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. like chivalric literature more generally. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. And at the book’s conclusion. and that is the exalted position of women. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. Parzival. then their sorrows would end. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. Rather. never becomes explicit: the tale and the esotericism of the Grail that is its center never stray into otherworldly descriptions of journeys through the cosmos. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. When inevitably she does so. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. just as is Western esotericism more generally. we are told to honor women. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival.” chiefly Saturn. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. Yet this implicit esotericism. entertaining. but also with the changing of the moon. For instance.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. like so many of the Western esoteric currents.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness.2 The presence in this tale of astrological and other references to Judaism and Islam as well as to Asia (in the figure of Prester John) reminds us once again that the Grail tradition. and that of all the Grail servers. Saturn to suffering. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is.38 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and of how the servants of the Grail fell on their knees before the Grail. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. of course. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. and at the end of the tale. remains this-worldly in emphasis. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. the knight is told by Feirifiz. Throughout the tale. then naming them one by one in Arabic. He was to ask. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. and if he asked a Question. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. the spotted knight. of course.
he ultimately feels shamed. of course. Gawain’s symbol.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 39 ness and otherworldliness in the service of one’s chivalric duties and of the Grail is the key to chivalric literature more generally. as I have elsewhere shown.3 Thus the passage on the pentangle is nested within a larger context of number and letter symbolism carried on by way of the poem’s repetition of key letters and numbers. marking why Gawain is a fine man. the poem. When Gawain. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. At the end of Gawain. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. First. the five virtues. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. in Gawain as in Parzival. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. the first is the true knot. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. like Grail tales more generally. And this green marks my second point of observation. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. continence. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. loving kindness. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. and piety. courtesy. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. the number of maidens serving the Grail. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table find the story not only funny but so instructive that they all decide to wear a green girdle like Gawain’s. but with the five fingers.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. these being liberality. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . This famous passage. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. like several others in the poem. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. and. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. Yet in the story’s conclusion. is marked with a tiny colored initial. part of a tradition that. Once again. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. in the image of the pentangle. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. with the five wounds of Christ.
/ And since talking directly can’t help us. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. yet it is also the symbol of new life. pus nons val arditz. perhaps cunning can. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. to be renewed. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. yet at the same time. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. although a lay group. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the .” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. Or again. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. and the illicit. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. One does find esoteric themes. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. like the chivalric orders. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. green is the color of nature. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. the hidden divine messenger. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming.”] Or again. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères.” or “the Green Isle. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. This same duality inheres in the color green. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. not monastic or priestly.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. and renewal. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. Gawain. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. growth.” The Friends of God were. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus.
The poetic work emerges out of a pregnant silence in order to unfold Dante’s vision of celestial memory with glittering poetic images of his divine Beatrice. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. calls upon the “book of memory. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. and his commentary. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. like the great Divine Comedy. is a visionary poem. There is. thrice-blessed Lady. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. La Vita Nuova. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. And of course. this time wearing a white dress. as in the Divine Comedy. we end by passing beyond space. who lived during the fifth century. but the faculty of imaginal perception. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. This is. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. poems. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . albeit more literary. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. of course. philosophical. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. of course. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. Boethius. Thus Dante’s greatest works. we cannot help but note the complex numerical and astrological symbolism with which Dante begins his poem: “Nine times since my birth had the heaven of light returned to the same point in its revolution when first I laid eyes on that glorious Lady. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. and words and ideas into the empyrean. with a final vision about which he will not now write. as does the play that we see here on naming. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. and to fuse the tradition’s literary.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. and exactly nine years later. full of images. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. and here. time. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. In De consolatione. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. Dante sees Beatrice again. an intervening figure in the tradition. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. Dante ends this strange work. in the ninth hour of the day.
also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. with an oratory. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. And these are evoked . bareyne trees olde.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. here. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. knarry. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. But this corresponds to what we have seen of the Western esoteric traditions from their beginnings in antiquity—they represent unique fusions of previous currents that. yet he went further. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. Like Dante. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. the theater of art. Chaucer. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. daunces” around her. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. and of divine service. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. caroles. Chaucer was not an esotericist. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. Here. But all the same. The two medieval currents we have been discussing here—the chivalric and the troubadour traditions—meet in two final figures whose work we must consider here—Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. especially of the knight for his lady. instrumentz. however. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. We see in Chaucer’s tale.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus.” In that “portreiture. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. Earthy.” “gastly for to see. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. known as a primary literary figure in English history. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316).” with “festes.” and by “kervere of ymages. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. above all. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. marked east and west by gates of marble.” Thus this tale. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life.
on the first page of the Book of the Lover and the Beloved—these terms representing a favorite motif of Sufi poetry throughout the centuries—we find a direct reference to Sufism itself. bringing together the chivalric. Not surprisingly. we are given the meditations of the hermit. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. and this is no accident. not just a set of correspondences. “knowledge” and “remembrance. was prolific.” are familiar to students of . was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. one for each of the 365 days of the year. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). (part of his romance Blanquerna). and indeed. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. literature is not only entertainment. The lover answered. and of course his most well-known and influential works. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. (a kind of chivalric code). It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. These terms. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. At this juncture. like Chaucer. In fact.” The Art represents. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. and Ars generalis ultima. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. troubadour. In the ninety-ninth chapter. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. but with the advent of rationalism. Lull. For although Lull. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. Ars brevis. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. until he was thirty. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. The Book of Contemplation. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. given its astonishing scope. It is self-evident from Lull’s own introduction that he is drawing on esoteric Islam in order to create a kind of Christian Sufism.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit.
invoking evil spirits as good angels. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. images. and writings in themselves.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. but of those done with the wrong attitude. and by writings. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures.’ They asked him. not of figures. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . whose influence extended across Europe.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. Further. Originally. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. but for purposes of clarity. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him.” In this falsified knowledge. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. that is. The cosmos represents the divine writing. he condensed his art into nine letters. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. and writings. images. all errors are implanted in the world. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. Of course. However.’”5 The world is a book for those who can read: this is a constant refrain within the Western esoteric traditions from antiquity to the present. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. just as the writer is in his book. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. west.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. and images. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. Here we find a clear condemnation. and profaning holy things with figures. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. and that is the book. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. And through presumption. out of arrogance or presumption. since my Beloved contains all. north and south. as the readers of Lull’s book. By means of these letters. which he claimed to be a universal system of knowledge that allows one to see into the universal nature of all things and of the Divine. most of all in the exposition of his art. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. This extraordinary art. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. ‘Yes. Lull used more letters. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. we are also participating in this relationship. rather than my Beloved in the world.
triangles. whether?. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. God. depending upon how the letters are combined.” C signifies “greatness. In the full art. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. which are seen in both traditions as transcendent principles the combination of which can ultimately bring us to and reveal the inner nature of the divine. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. “goodness. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. B signifies. When we consider the prominence of the letter A in numerous esoteric traditions ranging all the way from Buddhist tantrism to Gnosticism to Böhmean Christian theosophy. I— Veritas. emerging as it did largely in a Spanish ambience perfectly suited to the meeting not only of the primary currents of medieval Christian esotericism—including the chivalric and troubadour—but also of Islamic and Jewish esotericism. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. tables. The Lullian art is a means of working with letters and words as a way of entering into transcendent consciousness of the inner metaphysical principles informing and transcending the human and natural realms. For instance. and gluttony. Lull himself combined them using circles.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. justice. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. Of course his work is unique.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. and avarice. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. angel. E—Potestas. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. or that from the Ars brevis. for instance. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. . The Lullian art. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. has vast implications. trees. concordance. it includes and transcends logic. for example. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. B—Bonitas. and so forth. At the same time. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. For this reason. prudence. Hence in many respects. what?. difference. found in the Ars compendiosa. and numerous other arrangements. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals.
Rosicrucianism. or English gnostic. It is. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. and Lullian traditions lived on far past their apparent demises: all of them fed into the emergence of the Western esoteric traditions that began to flower in the seventeenth century. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. And as literature. of course. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. but this is virtually never the case. and Freemasonry. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. Christian. troubadour. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. But there is another element as well that we must recognize: all of these authors in turn manifest unique combinations of tendencies or currents that preëxist and transcend them. French. the words. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. Chivalry influenced future esotericism by providing a code of conduct that as it became individualized or fed into smaller initiatory groups took on esoteric force even as it lost power as a system of social organization. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. but what is more. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. intricately woven. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. . commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors.or eighteenth-century German. the chivalric. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. In these traditions. however. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. Rather. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening.46 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E We also see this perspective visible in a muted way in chivalric and troubadour literature.
with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. a work that Gershom Scholem insists “cannot be explained on the basis of the tradition of philosophic thought in Judaism or as a product of its decline. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. for instance. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. terminology. and cosmogony. and elsewhere in Europe.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. For instance. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir.8 But for our purposes. and thus Kabbalism. “The affinity with the language. Castile. disclosing them only in parabolic language. . also may have roots elsewhere. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. And in fact. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. number. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. and Kabbalism more generally. dating to the Talmudic period.9 Yet at the same time. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. The book Bahir. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions.” Scholem concludes.E. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. but also in that they consciously sought to keep this tradition hidden from the general public even while composing copious works that derive from the long tradition of interconnections between literature and religion. But the Bahir. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists.
in one section we read of an “alphabetic hymn which contains the mystery of the twenty-two sacred celestial letters which are decorated with a crown made of the Patriarchs and the holy heavenly Chariot. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. and natural realms at once. spiritual. writing the Names of God) and through this power. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name.11 Of course. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . For example. But in any event. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. supported by some contemporary testimony. for example.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. informing the cultural. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name.” (that is. It is absolutely clear from this and many other sections of the Zohar that Kabbalistic gnosis is intimately bound up with the mysteries of the word. In section 124. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. There are several major schools of thought on the origin of this vast and complicated work: some hold that Moses de Leon really did copy the Zohar from an earlier version by Shimon bar Yohai. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. which comprise a total of 613 letters.” Indeed. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. but another view. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. the tonal accents.48 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E The sephirot mysteries in Bahir are intimately related to the mystical meanings of numbers and letters. including the human body. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. caught up in the spirit. as a female is fertilized from the male. said to symbolize the abdomen.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions.
made transparent so .” Thus we can see how by way of ascent through the Names one arrives at the hidden true nature of existence—and within this is the mystery of the a.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. For instance. yet when these Names are removed. whispering.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. the tenth letter. or aleph.” about which no one. in the Fountain of Wisdom. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt. inquiry . in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads.” One can easily see.”17 By investigation. is allowed to ask questions. but My Face will not be seen.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. an ¯ “ether. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. action .” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. why it is no doubt so profoundly difficult to translate it: it is an inordinately difficult work that requires oral exegesis because it clearly emerges from direct spiritual experience.”14 In other words. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life. so to say. all are found in this Name. out of it emerges the Names. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination.”18 This.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. utterance. in this context. all comprehension and thought.” which may or may not itself be an “a. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. eighty. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. .”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. . and yod in turn becomes twenty. we are told. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. Through this kind of multiplication.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. the essence of everything. from reading this extraordinary work. Here. not even Moses. sum and computation of the explication of the Ineffable Name [of God]—unique in the branches of the root of vocalization that is magnified in the thirteen types of transformation. forty. . the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. voice. speech. . tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. corresponding to yod. and 160.
” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. as Scholem remarks. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. emerges. that of hardened or congealed materiality.50 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E that through them in the eye of imagination we can see the hidden principles and working of the cosmos itself. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. including thought.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. What is seen in the eye of imagination is expressed through alphanumeric riddles such as references to “four letters that constitute a fire that consumes fire.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech.20 For that matter. not from this side. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. Indeed. but also metaphysical. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. broadly speaking. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. is not only cosmological. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. but from the other. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. then.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. Medieval Kabbalism. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. ’En sof literally means “infinity. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. All of these exist. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. sometimes without.
lar thing as language is its essential life.”21 In fact, for the Kabbalists letters have a plastic quality: in forming words, they are forming also the actual divine nature of things, so that to enter into the mysteries of words is to penetrate beyond language as we ordinarily conceive it into the hidden nature of God himself. Here again we have come upon the dual nature of language: there is exoteric language, which is veiling and limited; and there is esoteric language, which is unveiling and virtually unlimited in its ramifications. Particularly in the case of Kabbalistic word and letter combination can we say that esoteric uses of language are virtually unlimited in effect, for Kabbalism has since at least the time of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (c. 1165–1230) and Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (c. 1240–1292) employed techniques of linguistic recombination that in turn, if practiced over a period of time, result in ecstasy and visionary illumination. In the case of R. Eleazar and Abraham Abulafia, the technique entails combining the Tetragrammaton with the letters of the alphabet in order to bring one to a transcendent state of divine knowledge or gnosis. According to Abulafia, this technique, which requires isolation, prolonged practice, and special breathing techniques, “draws down the supernal force in order to unite it with you.”22 Thus esoteric language is not only a guide toward gnosis, it is here the actual means to gnosis. Central to Kabbalism is esoteric language. Isaac of Acre, for instance, distinguished between the mere acquisition of knowledge through ordinary learning and the direct gnosis by the intellect.23 And his predecessor Isaac the Blind used the analogy of a great tree, in which inward and subtle essences of wisdom (hokhmah) exist and move through the tree like sap. We partake of this wisdom, or sap, by “sucking,” which is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge from that gained by ordinary reading; it is a participatory gnosis in which we directly experience the essence-language of creation itself, moving in and through all that is. Here again we have reading and writing that go far beyond what we ordinarily regard them as—here esotericism and literature are totally fused. Such analogies and definitions as that of the tree, or “sucking,” or for that matter of celestial reading and writing, do indeed correspond to those of the ancient Gnostics; and like the ancient Gnostics, the Kabbalists too produced a wild profusion of works expressing variants of a complex and profound cosmology, as well as a metaphysics of absolute transcendence. In Kabbalism, as in ancient Gnosticism, we find the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, to be prominent, and indeed even find the teaching in Kabbalah of the higher and lower Shekhinah, which parallels the teachings of some Gnostic sects regarding a higher and lower Sophia. There are numerous parallels, but this does not mean that there was direct influence. In any event, this profusion of Kabbalistic works and teachings in turn was to have an immense influence on the subsequent history of Western esoteric
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traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of
language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century
In the twentieth century. intricacy. which is. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. For Kabbalah. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. Indeed. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. . that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. after all.54 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E treatise on Cabala alluded to a Kabbalistic doctrine of universal restoration. To such approaches. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. or vice versa. and beauty. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. Here. Spain. ramified throughout religious and literary history. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. literature represents portals into the transcendent. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. much less the possibility of transcendence. And when we look at Kabbalism. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. however unfamiliar to us today. that is. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. that ultimately all beings will be saved. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. Such an approach to literature. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. or vice versa. surface is nothing and depth is everything. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. In the eighteenth century. But before discussing these implications. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. where one finds literature and religion fused.
on the other transmitted by way of literature. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. not entirely ‘pagan. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. So too. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. we cannot help but notice religious references. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 55 T H E T R A N S F I G U R AT I O N O F E A R T H : A L C H E M I C A L L I T E R AT U R E Undoubtedly among the most enigmatic traditions of the human inheritance. Indeed. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. as we saw earlier.’ yet not entirely Christian. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. itself also highly literary: the koan. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. to work it through. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. like the alchemical expression or riddle. To the first-time observer. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. However. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. alchemy. as the “art of Hermes. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. When we look at European alchemical works. . forces one to wrestle with it alone. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. Of course. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. hence on the one hand religious. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory.
—latinized as Rhazes). refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. 825–932 C. a tradition transmitted through literature.E. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. or animal into its paradisal original true nature.. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). or the animal kingdom. George Ripley (fifteenth century). For alchemy extends into many realms. Thus.E. All of these authors did write on alchemy. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. Olympiodoros. it is certain that such a historical recitation would do little to unveil our primary theme: how religion and literature coincide at the juncture of consciousness in the Western esoteric traditions. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. . even if it does not entirely belong to these. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. in the revelation of paradise. the vegetable. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. the embodying of spirit. either. and Morienus of the seventh century C. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). as has historical placement. Synesius. be they in the mineral. even if its work resembles these in some respects. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. that is. or al-Rhazi (ca. and takes place by way of fire. alchemical literature.56 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with constant reference to the accumulated prior works in relation to which any given work is seen. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. Indeed. at heart. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. thirteenth century). After all. and the spiritualizing of the body. Roger Bacon. Yet this golden chain of tradition is not necessarily a directly historical line of initiatory descent—it is a chain of self-affiliation or identification. One places oneself in the line of what is. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present.E. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. Ramon Lull. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. put another way. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus.. plant. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory.
bracketed by mythological references.” In other words. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). Maier. and are to come. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. Indeed. and author Michael Maier. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions.” that is. were. which Vulcan cast into the sea. physician. it is enough. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. “The Golden Tripod. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. If thou knowest the substance and the method. Thomas Norton. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. composer. . between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. . and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. in his preface. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century).” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. His title. seek not many utensils for thy labor. of course. and thou knowest all. and gave it to us by mighty toil. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. . we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). Here. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context.
being bereft of images . and proved of the greatest efficacy. a half-naked man with a scythe. .58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. before him a burning barrel. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. the Sun. a king and a queen. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. and that which is palpable. is at once literary and practical. including two archers shooting at targets. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. the king bearing a staff. and to the queen’s left. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. Here you see the perfection of our Art. the queen a three-flowered plant. on the far left side a single candle. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. as well as an angel blowing a horn.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. . The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. that which is visible.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. over a fire. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. to be invisible. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. Saturn wants to kill Mercury.” With its spiritual essence.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. while the Moon. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. to become impalpable . despite its elliptical means of expression. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes.” pleads the case of her husband. and the text tells us how at the end of the world.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. and this Mars has done. and a man sowing seeds. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. and it is clear from what Valentinus himself writes that he devoted himself intensely to “the study of the powers and virtues which God has laid into metals and minerals: and the more I searched the more I found. Shortly thereafter. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. in the background a dead tree stump. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. while around him are various figures. he cured a sick fellow monk completely.
Dalton said he was happy to die.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. and so was let go. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. Such. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. and tortured for four years. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. strong and pure. this treatise of Cremer is clearly regarded by him as a revelation of a great and powerful mystery that must not be revealed to the vulgar. Cremer in this. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. his last testament. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. a man named Herbert.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. and two of willow charcoal. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. of . who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. Thus we can see that Cremer’s instructions are in fact quite specific and truly are largely devoid of the literary passages found in the previous two tracts. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. so as not to lose legibility over time. of course.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer.”35 And indeed. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. two of living sulphur. three of rabusenum.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. we are told. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. two of orange arsenic. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. In recent times. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. and prepared in about four days.
Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. vegetable. not merely from the outside and as other. and animal realms. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. air. but is joined with them in the imagination. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. Through these evestra. to carry it within. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. poems. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. Spagyric medicine. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. Confronted with such a colloquy. one may know the inner nature of anything. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. And of course. Paracelsus tells us. Of course. Imagination governs the development of things. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. then. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. allegories. To say. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . its subtle essence. We may ‘read. not all evestra are benefic. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. but also through the power of the imagination. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. literary allusions. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. so one must be cautious in entering into these other dimensions by way of imagination—one is reminded of the proverbial visitor to the faeries who never returned. water. epigrams. But in any event. ethereal counterparts. According to Paracelsus. fire. not only by looking at words on a page. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. one branch of alchemy. for they occupy different dimensions within it. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature.’ then.
bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. as a spirit.74). and this is characteristic of the work as whole. light air. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. these two poles became further separated. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. It is as though here alchemy. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. but that in this particular worldview. and so forth. like Cremer’s testament. philosophy. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. .” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. wine. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. Genesis 1:27. like Valentinus’s.” and to a host of Biblical references. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. including Romans 1. a matter of . may be interpreted in both ways at once. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. the true medicine and theology. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. more real than what we see in the physical. Of course. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. One of the better examples of this particular emphasis in alchemical literature is to be found in a now relatively little-known anonymous work dated 1686 and titled Amor Proximi. At this juncture we should recognize that alchemical literature can be interpreted along a spectrum ranging from a focus on its spiritual meaning to a focus on its physical interpretation. The term Machina mundi is particularly interesting here because it is so far from describing the worldview of Amor Proximi as to be its polar opposite. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. . it is entirely real. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. indeed. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. . even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. The terms used in its title—oil.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. fire. and mist. II Chronicles 13:5. emphasize their recipe quality. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. . This is the true Ground of Nature . but here are clearly spiritualized. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . while others. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace.
for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. inward dimension. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. . and hence we find a Christian alchemy. in harmony” (II. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. .83). but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. and a true Medicus.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. Yet alchemy. a true Astrologus. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. easily translates into a dominant religion. nor whence they emerge (II. Thus. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. and when either one is absent. Oil. And so we find the three One. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. just as we find for instance Islamic . traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. we are told. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind.93). which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual.83). But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. of existence. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. as a kind of counterpoint. the author writes “That the earth is dark. the depths. spiritual dimensions of the work. and one three . but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. these terms have an alchemical provenance. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. However. that is the mystery wherein all lies. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. In fact. Fire. Salt. or Water is. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. but here. is a perspective that is all depth. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. like Hermeticism. Oil.105). Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. Water.77). Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. for instance. but the Sun light.80).
The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. including “Chymie” or alchemy. Christian theosophy. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. astrology. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. and of the third. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. of course. from spiritual to physical. on sulfur. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. But such rumors aside. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. on mercury. Kabbalah. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. The implication. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Indeed. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. Pordage’s work. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. 1675). Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). and gnostic metaphysics. on salt.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. astrological.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. This is not . What makes this work most remarkable is the unity of this synthesis: it is clear that von Welling had in mind an all-encompassing worldview emerging from a deep union of these traditions. not merely a pastiche. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. and Kabbalistic themes. Within each of these broad sections are individual chapters whose content begins with chemical or alchemical topics and moves through these to theosophic or gnostic themes such as “The urangelical world. of the second. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. and he and his spiritual circle. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. beginning with the organization of the first section.
The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. we see compressed into a single illustration a whole array of esoteric influences to form a seamless synthesis whose surrounding perspective (visible in the use of Böhme’s term Ungrund to frame the entire illustration) is theosophic. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. At the same time. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. . das himmlische Manna genannt. Christian scripture. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. diagrams.” “Cherubim. Indeed. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation.64 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E to say that all of his sources were entirely accurate—for instance. including D. or mercury. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). For instance. he elided many details. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. and “Manna Coeleste. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. Here. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof.” and so forth. with a plethora of astrological symbols. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. and calcify it by hand.” “Thronen. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. then in a Liquorem .” Further. to properly prepare mercury. charts. . meaning the transcendent Godhead. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. in other words. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. and in this regard he succeeded. Thus he writes regarding the nature and use of earthly mercury that the “I (Mercury) out of L (the Sun) is of a wholly different nature than that out of . but might well also be called pansophic. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). and instructions. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. of Pisa. . tables. diagrams. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. . “Alchimische Fragen. sulfur. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726).
as well as with what these represent. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. Here. letters.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. One must learn both to ‘read. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. Alchemy. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. vegetable. In some respects. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. is a relatively modern phenomenon. both seek to perfect this creativity. fire. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. but even more in the perfection of humanity. To effect the alchemical work requires that the artist enter into more transcendent states of consciousness—the work is in this respect a mirror of changes within the alchemist. of course. and images. water. or grammars. Thus we may well say that. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. for example. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. including not only chemicals and equipment. and to ‘write. recipes. a natural homology between alchemy and art. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. Alchemy. broadly seen. alchemy is like learning to use a language.’ There is. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. however far-reaching. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation.’ in the broadest possible sense. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. so that everything—mineral. air.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. but also in the microcosm of the artist. like a painting. animal.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. of course. In this sense. we can easily see. and that we will shortly examine further. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well.
this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. Just as in Christian mysticism one finds that lines of influence are chiefly and perhaps sometimes exclusively literary— inspiration leaps from Dionysius to John Scotus Erigena to Eckhart and Tauler. humanity. extends into a range of realms at once. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. Rather. both of physics and of literary criticism. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome.’ in the case of alchemy. I would use the word decoding. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. and the restoration of the right . so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. But in alchemical works. It is true that more recently theorists. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. literature. Oral commentary by a master is important. religion. no doubt of that. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. one would have the solution. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. the approaches to transcendence and the depictions of these approaches within alchemical literature nonetheless reflect quite clearly what we have already seen to be the dominant paradigm of western esotericism in antiquity. However. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. Contemporary views of literature. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. Indeed. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. in the manner of a mathematical equation. Here in alchemy. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. and science are one. like Jung. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature.66 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and the complex kinds of linguistic riddles visible in alchemical works. between the observer and that which is observed. The ‘solution. like those of science. In alchemy. between subject and object. This is by no means to suggest. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. who then are listed by later mystics—so too in alchemy earlier alchemists are invoked by the later ones in a litany of literary transmission. were one to decipher what x and y mean. and the divine. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. humanity. and the divine in ever more profound ways. nature. In Christian terms.
it has not only continued to exist to the present day. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. As we have seen. between the sciences and the . During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. divided against the world. against ourselves. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. A N D M A S O N I C L I T E R AT U R E Although Western esoteric traditions may be studied in isolation. and twentieth centuries. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. In the study of Western esotericism. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. in the modern era. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. Indeed. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. especially during the eighteenth. but in relation to a host of other currents. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. in particular Christian theosophy. PA N S O P H I C . Literature forms a means toward this gradual process because it is in literature that we can come to identify with and understand in more profound ways all that surrounds us. R O S I C R U C I A N . precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. We should also keep in mind the growing split. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. pansophy. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. Rosicrucianism. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. So it is with alchemy. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. nineteenth. and against the divine. and Freemasonry. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives.
68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. the emergence of biology. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. or Aurora. chemistry. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. wrote literary works. to name only a few of the most luminary. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. and in religion. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. However. at least in the secular world. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Indeed. rather than seeking to separate. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. as well as De Signatura . nor is that our aim. medicine and astrology. near Poland. say. illustration and literature. It is true that. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. quite the opposite movement. our approach being thematic. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. physical chemistry from metaphysics. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. comparative and syncretic. including. practiced medicine and astrology. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. But Western esotericism.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. John Pordage. in Western esotericism we find. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. and geology. the discovery of more complex technology. Rather. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. The Copernican revolution. and Franz von Baader. a city on the eastern side of Germany. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. this sense of unity dissolved. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. in the sciences. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. and drawing from his visionary experiences. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. explored theology and metaphysics. in the arts. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. archaeology. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. the fields of alchemy.
Rerum (The Signature of All Things), Christosophia, and numerous letters and shorter works. Even these titles reveal the connections between Böhme and the earlier traditions we have discussed: Mysterium Magnum, with its elaborate exegesis of Genesis, is certainly indebted to the Kabbalistic tradition; The Signature of All Things is an extended discussion of, among many topics, the Hermetic doctrine of signatures developed by Paracelsus; and Christosophia, often translated as The Way to Christ, entails a chivalric ethic of fidelity to the feminine figure of Wisdom, the Virgin Sophia. What is more, there unquestionably are profound parallels between Böhme’s writings and ancient Gnosticism, parallels that became even clearer in later theosophic figures like the English Philadelphians.43 Thus we can see how Böhmean theosophy reveals the syncretism so characteristic of modern esotericism more generally; here numerous traditions meet and are fused into a profound new union that was to have enormous influence on the subsequent history of Western esotericism. Böhme’s work, according to his own testimony, derived chiefly from his own personal experience, but there is evidence that he had extensive contacts with Hermetic and Kabbalistic circles of his day, including lengthy discussions with Abraham von Frankenberg, himself an author on Kabbalistic subjects. That Böhme’s writing emerged from his own visionary perceptions and inspiration is unquestionable, for he wrote with authority and certainty about a vast range of cosmological and metaphysical principles. What is more, he developed a particular language, drawing upon Hermetic, alchemical, and Kabbalistic sources, to express this inspiration, a special terminology with both Latinate and Germanic roots. But Böhme drew from prior traditions as well, and his work may be described as unique or as a brilliant synthesis, for both are true. Although Böhme’s terminology and mode of expression are often difficult, the basic elements of his thought are not. It is true that Böhme presents a complex cosmology, with his exposition of the Ungrund, or abyss, that precedes existence and that corresponds in Kabbalism to the ’en sof, and in Christian mysticism to Eckhart’s Godhead; with his exposition of the seven source-spirits; and with his unfamiliar terms like limbus, lubet, and schrack, describing hidden principles or aspects of the creative process. Yet Böhme has been popular for centuries—from Germany to Russia and America—among those drawn to direct spiritual experience, and this popularity derives from the fact that while his doctrines are almost inexhaustible, the fundamental nature of Böhme’s teaching is clear and simple. Here I will compress a great deal in the hope of sketching the outlines of Böhme’s thought. Böhme held that before the cosmos came into being, there was the Ungrund, or transcendent abyssal origin. From this emerged two realms, the dark-world of wrath and the paradisal light-world, and after a series of primal catastrophes, a “third principle,” physical nature. Human beings
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can participate in all three of these principles; some people belong to the wrathworld of fury and destructiveness, some to the paradisal light-world, but mostly we find ourselves mediating among all of these. Our purpose as human beings, simply put, is to transmute the wrath-quality in ourselves into paradisal light and love. This process of transmutation, a kind of spiritual alchemy, is true religion; without it, religion is merely outward “Babel,” the appearance without the reality. Böhme’s approach to language is of particular interest to us, for, quite in line with the numerous currents of the Western esoteric traditions that preceded him, Böhme created a complex linguistic mysticism. In Aurora, Böhme’s first book, he introduced this mysticism of the word, writing that “The whole power of the Father speaks, out of all the qualities, the Word, i.e., the Son of God. The same word, or the same sound, spoken by the Father, issues out of the Salniter, or the powers of the Father, and out of the Father’s Mercurius, or sound . . . for the outspoken Word remains as a glory or majestic command before the king, but the sound, issuing through the word, executes the command of the Father which he has spoken through the word, and in this is the birth of the Holy Trinity. The same takes place in an angel or in a man” (vi.2). Böhme’s language here is resonant with alchemical and Jewish allusions, but these allusions appear in a clearly Christian context, and although they refer to the Word in the Trinity, they also refer to the word in humanity. Böhme extends this linguistic mysticism to every living thing. In his giant commentary on Genesis, Mysterium Magnum, he writes that “every creature has its own center for its outspeaking, or the sound of the formed word within itself, both eternal and temporal beings: the unreasoning ones as well as man; for the first Ens has been spoken out of the sound of God, by Wisdom, out of her center into the fire and light, and has been formed into the fiat, and entered into compaction. The Ens is out of the eternal, but the compaction is out of the temporal, and therefore in everything there is something eternal hidden in time” (xxii.2). Here Böhme elaborates on the metaphysics of what he also discusses in De Signatura Rerum, the esoteric view older than Pythagoras that everything in creation emerges out of its resonating linguistic, sonic, energetic origin as an emanation or manifestation of an archetype. What is more, there is a teleological significance to this doctrine. For if all beings preëxist their material manifestation in the archetypal realm of the word, after manifestation each manifested thing will return to its transcendent origin, that belonging to love returning to love and that belonging to wrath returning to wrath. Böhme writes: “In that quality in which each word in the human voice in the act of outspeaking forms and manifests itself, either in the love of God, as in the Holy Ens, or in the wrath of God; in the same quality will it be taken up again therein after it has been spoken out. The false word becomes infected by the devil, and sealed up for its [future] detriment, and is received within the
Mysterium of the wrath, in the quality of the dark-world. Each thing returns with its Ens to where it has originated” (xxii.6). This is not predestination, exactly, but rather the sifting of the chaff from the wheat at time’s end. We can see here how language is intimately tied up with the metaphysics of love and wrath. In the fallen world, wrathfulness is the principle of separation and objectification as well as of anger, and so the language of extreme ratiocination also belongs to the wrath. Reason has its place, but when it becomes separated from love, it becomes objectifying and destructive and a functionary of wrath, while language divorced from its transcendent origin becomes Babel or babble. Yet all of this refers to the fallen world, the sphere of discord, chaos, confusion. The means of order’s restoration is the Word, the restoration of light and love in one’s life. But such a restoration takes place through a process of awakening or illumination that is a process of transmuting wrath into love, darkness into light. This process is also that of restoring language from its fallen state (as a means of objectification) into its primordial state of union. This process is the awakening of the true Word in us. Böhme writes that “our whole religion consists in learning how to go out of dissension and vanity and to reënter the one Tree, whence we have come in Adam, and which is Christ in us” (Regener, viii.2). Thus, “he who fully enters into this state of divine rest in Christ arrives through Him at the perception of divinity. He then sees God in himself and everywhere; he speaks with God and God speaks with him, and he understands what is the Word, Essence, and Will of God. Such a one, and no other, is capable of teaching the Word of God himself: for God is one with him, and he wills nothing but what God wills through him” (Mysterium Magnum, xlii.63). The Word of God here has special and profound meaning; it refers to the essence of deity, the transcendent origin of existence. And by realizing this Word, one restores all subordinate language as well as nature itself (whose creatures each also incarnate divine signatures or words) to their primordial unitive or paradisal state. From all of this we can see that the fundamental impetus of Böhme’s work is integrative, not on a cultural so much as on an individual, primal level. Böhme calls the individual toward reintegration or union, and it is the individual nature of this call that has subsequently attracted so many people, in such diverse social situations, toward theosophy. But at the same time, we can easily see how this same integrative impulse aimed at individual transformation could as well be applied on a wider cultural scale, as for instance as the foundation of an effort to reunify the sciences and the humanities with religion. And in fact, such an effort is precisely what we find happening over the century following Böhme’s life, in the movement called Rosicrucianism. It may be, as some scholars have speculated, that Böhme was himself familiar with the same movement which, ten years before Böhme’s death, began to emerge under the name Rosicrucian, with the publication of the
And of course this brief work. C. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. Hermeticism. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes.” These “Books of Nature. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. Certainly we can agree with Frances Yates’s assessment that Rosicrucian may more wisely be seen historically as describing a particular kind of approach to arcane knowledge than as a specific organized order.. they could collect Librum Naturae.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means.72 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Fama Fraternitatis (1614) and the Confessio Fraternitatis (1615).. if not universalism. according to the Fama. and later. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. and why he is called Microcosmos. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . like us. R. like its complement the Confessio. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature.” C. R. R.”46 When C. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. even if at times such orders did exist. caused a great stir in Europe.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is.” however. R. returns eventually to Germany. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. and this is the “book M. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. Not coincidentally. of Christian theosophy as well. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. “or a perfect method of all arts. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. The Rosicrucians’ goal.” into good Latin from Arabic. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. in the Orient. are to be collected by the wise. translates the “book M. But in any event. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. generally speaking. Indeed. For from the very beginning of the Fama. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted.
full of geometric symbolism. that you could so read in one only book. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. . and by them was made the magical language and writing. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. The description is often hard to follow. belongs to the mind and imagination. Interestingly. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. but follow only Christ. first. . the Fama concludes by asserting that “our building (although one hundred thousand people had very near seen and beheld the same) shall for ever remain untouched. undestroyed. they also made the first part of the book M. like the book.” the Fama continues. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. . all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. “After this manner. and withal by reading understand and remember. and hidden to the wicked world. . by four persons only. of eclecticism or universalism. with a large dictionary . . are now. or hope for. recur as well in the Confessio.” There is more. sciences. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. wish. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. called I. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. Among other questions. so that no one might later be deceived. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. the foundations and contents of all faculties.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. . and shall be) hath been. every one with their several figures and sentences. a century old. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. it is to read the universal book. is. Yet once again. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. than that which is the head and sum. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. and come into our brotherhood.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. and arts. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. or are able to believe or utter. and of reading the mysterious book of books. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy.
including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling.”52 “These characters and letters. a new language for ourselves. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. . is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself.” Such an idea of a magic language has. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. . One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. for instance. into all beasts . or worse than nothing.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. . for instance. and made. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. and writing in a “magic language. a new era for mankind. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. yea. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by .54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. of course. and endue them with learning . as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. metahistorical events at the end of time. and have found out. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. and quite probably to Egypt. . in the Rosicrucian mysteries. with the date 1604. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. the Bible. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. or sixth age. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. All of this. that he shall sooner lose his life in seeking and searching for us than to find us and attain the wished happiness of the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. without and against the will of God. of course. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. and above all. . with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. a very long history in the West. . yea. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. yet shall we never be manifested .”55 The implication is that here. we are told that to some it is permitted that they see and use “those great letters and characters which the Lord God hath written and imprinted in heaven and earth’s edifice.
a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. And all of this was tied in with the emerging rationalist and materialist paradigm of the so-called Enlightenment—which was precisely opposed to the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. particularly in France. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. was of a non-sectarian. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. Dee’s Enochian language is important because no less an authority than Frances Yates concluded that the single most important figure in the appearance of early Rosicrucianism is in fact John Dee. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio.” one of the most famous instances of which Dee is responsible for? We might also remark on the history of Rosicrucianism after the publication of the Fama. The emergence of these three works— and their implication that there existed in Europe a secret high order of adepts who possessed the keys to the hidden language of the cosmos—naturally caused a sensation. and it too has been used in magical workings. 1604. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. the Confessio.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. Here. as well as in subsequent literature.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. or pansophia. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. and the outrageously baroque. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. brilliant. peaceful. Here. or intelligences.’s tomb. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. By 1623. as Frances Yates notes. The Rosicrucian dream. on a pansophic mysticism. disappearing around 1620. demons. or why. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. discovered the “Enochian language. that is.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. John Dee (1527–1604). universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. R. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. who.
alchemical. of course. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. it emphasizes magic. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. Once Taught in the Magia of the Egyptians and Persians and Now Rightly Called the Pansophia of the Venerable Society of the Rosy Cross (n. Pansophy as a movement corresponds exactly to this kind of self-placement and synthesis: it is the emergence of a universalist Western esotericism willing to draw on all previous esoteric movements. The emergence of a pansophic approach to esotericism seems very much a counterbalance to the emergent extreme rationalism and materialism that also gave birth to scientism. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. In many respects. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. healing. Ruechlin. derived from alchemy. Paracelsus. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. alchemy. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. magical. 1618)]. herbalism. mechanism. in contrast to theosophy. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!).76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements.p. It is true that chemistry. various forms of magic. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. and Michael Maier. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. We might recall that. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. Christian or not. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. cabalistic. including. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. for instance. and technologism. not specifically Christian. or magia naturalis. Pansophy. and gnostic. is universal. cabala. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied.. which is specifically Christian gnosis. The pansophic view. The most obviously included is natural magic. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. but like Dee. in order to form the basis for a new. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. often with Kabbalistic influence. and inquiry into nature more generally.
Cabball.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. It is an astonishingly complex illustration.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. Metaphysica. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. including a French edition titled F. as a somewhat medieval figure.A. including sorcery. of vast and intricate tables. nee non Magia. planetary correspondences.. even if it is illicit. D. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. almost all. we tend to think of Faust. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. de La Rose-Croix. Among the first of these. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions.M. and much else. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. diagrams. et Hyperphysica. in later Rosicrucianism. magic squares. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. In some respects. and a series of . including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. one finds a range of possibilities opening up.O. But Chemistry]. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. chiefly under the title Physica. Philosophia. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable.
]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow.” and “Mineral Seed.” “Vegetable Seed. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. that is. in scholastic theology. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. surrounded by winged angelic forms.O. for instance. Here. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. in visual form. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’.O.” and so forth. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. in time and in eternity. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. John Dee. and Holy Spirit. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. or to Rosicrucianism.” “Animal Seed. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. here we have a different focus. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy.M. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. . of course. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. partaking in both. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. for instance.M. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos.” “Heavenly Seed.A. the greatest occultist of his day. and with the word Chaos. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. Son. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer.A. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. to the esoteric illustrations accompanying Johann Gichtel’s edition of Böhme’s collected works? Is this a specifically Rosicrucian illustration at all? Such questions I leave for others to answer. marked also Father. of its hyperphysical dimensions. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr.
not a visionary. (London: 1665). and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. and specifically. but published only in German). in other words. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. Another such figure. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). invented an industrial process. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. of course. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. not so very long ago. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. stretching right into the nineteenth century. and associated with the vast . was John Heydon. For all of the Rosicrucian. science. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. who studied minerology. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. of course. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. truly a Renaissance man. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. Freemasonry. the arts. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. or the Temple of Wisdom. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. the social and political realm. theosophic. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. author of such works as Theomagia. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. One sees this also. unlike these other more individualistic movements. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. which. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). originally a scientist.
Masonry. not surprisingly. John’s College in Oxford. Like Paracelsus himself. Robert Fludd went to St. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. the same time that saw Fludd’s publication of his History by de Bry saw his publication also of two treatises in Latin defending the “Fraternity of the Rosy Cross. and during this time began work on his major treatises. and although . semireligious occult fraternity. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. Fludd. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. on which he explicitly drew. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. Sir Thomas Fludd. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. Plato and the Bible. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. Indeed. the Kabbalah. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic.” published in Leiden. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. Such publication was. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. his father. Indeed. of course. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. Of course. Jewish. the arts. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. and the sciences. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. having received a knighthood for his military service. in 1616 and 1617. of course. and so it is not surprising to find his work filled with countless references to figures and works as diverse as Boethius and the Corpus Hermeticum. 1617). the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. to a speculative. Martianus Capella and. there seems little doubt that Rosicrucianism itself— whose apocalyptic hopes for an immediate reform of humanity were dashed by the reality of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany—in turn fed into the Masonic stream. and Rosicrucianism. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). but the Freemasons endured the longest. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe.
for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. and assiduous bibliophile. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. Marin Mersenne. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. Himself an alchemist. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. born to an aristocratic family. John Dee. By the early 1630s. Ashmole. and who collected much on and by John Dee—so that one might well say that the esoteric movement here went from England to the Continent. . But in any event. it was clear to Fludd that identification with the Rosicrucians subjected one to much public vitriol—Fludd had been the subject of bitter attacks by a French monk. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. who had actually gone in search of the Rosicrucians (to the dismay of Mersenne) and Mersenne’s massive attacks on Hermeticism and Kabbalism as well as Rosicrucianism certainly influenced the emergence of what has come to be known as Cartesian rationalism. and back to England. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. Dr. Dee’s son.60 Then again. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence.”61 But for our purposes. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. astrologer.” Elias Ashmole. Arthur Dee. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne.
although certainly that impulse was strong in him. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. John Dury (1596–1680). which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. Samuel. or as Kabbalistic. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. was not simply an antiquarian. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. using a symbolic metalanguage. never referred to it again. one could ignore it.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. and John Comenius (1592–1690).62 Backhouse’s father. except to his own spiritual son. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). but they are in any case gnostic. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. the real . of course. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles.”63 That this spoken revelation of the philosopher’s stone comes in “silables” suggests strongly the nature of the Western esoteric linguistic mysticism we have been tracing since antiquity. of course. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. when Backhouse thought he was dying.64 These three men. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. .” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. . Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. . resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. after recording this revelation.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). . The true name is hidden. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . and only philosophers of the English Revolution. It is significant that Ashmole.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. All of this. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. and must remain so. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection.
Philosophicall. Early in the eighteenth century. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. . Freemasonry. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. . there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). and Mechanical. 3. Arts and Sciences. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. according to the Constitutions. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. 4. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. However. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. . but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . Chymical. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures.” certainly a pansophic goal. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. Also important here is the third point. Such a language. . the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. 2. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. The aim of a magical language is. needless to say. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. . But most important for us is the final point. whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have else remain’d at a perpetual Distance.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. like the symbolism of alchemy. and as Edmond Mazet remarks.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry.
developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. suppress. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. solid. . Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. After her death. The work has already been commenced in London. . including. and indeed. England. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . On the one hand. announced in Ramsay’s oration. or ignore esotericism. Masonic values of rationalism. Ramsay. while publishing numerous books. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. became prominent in French Masonry. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. a theosophic circle in London. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. . especially in England. In it. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon.68 Within Masonry itself. great. Italy. with its general tendency to reject. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. and elsewhere exhort all the learned men and all the artisans of the Fraternity to unite to furnish materials for a Universal Dictionary of the liberal arts and useful sciences. for instance. and master mason. deism. it is not surprising that this project. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. And during this time. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. especially in France. fellow craftsman. In this oration. excepting only theology and politics. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. luminous. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. had an exoteric. On the other hand. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. fraternal Freemasonry. nonsectarian basis.
especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes.8). six for the clergy. that is. and six for the fellow craft. Freemasonry. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. . God has sealed the six directions of space. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. Rosicrucian. to wit I am. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. specifically. In the Graham manuscript of 1726. which is as follows: one word for a divine. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. of human and divine architecture both. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building.” In other words. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. In other words. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. by which. I answer it was God in six Terminations. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. based as it is on the craft of building. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. even to this day.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. theosophic. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period.”70 What are these words divided evenly between the clergy and Freemasons? There is some evidence of Kabbalistic influence in Freemasonry of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries—for instance. As we have already seen. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. when “the secrets of Freemasonry [were] ordered aright as is now and will be to the end of the world for such as do rightly understand it—in three parts in reference to the blessed Trinity who made all things. Indeed. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles.
we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. Masonry. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. and Christian theosophy. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. magic. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. not consume it. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. nature. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. including alchemy. of course. and the divine. its secret “silable. For according to Western esotericism generally. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. including humanity). as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. but as the actual medium linking humanity. the theme of our next section. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. Kabbalah. Above all. not just as the means of communication among people. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. pansophy. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. What is more. Here. in Western esotericism. Here. Rosicrucianism. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. Finally. And this role is played out through reading and writing. .” or signature.
Figure 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r. . T r i p u s A u r e u s ( F r a n k f u r t : 1 6 1 8 ) .
T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. from .
Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. .Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme.).
). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. .Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. Theosophia Revelata.
). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. . Theosophia Revelata.Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
O p u s M a g o .Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph.
Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. (Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o .Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye.
C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o .Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . .
. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. and the evocative. Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations. “The Music of Dawn.Figure 9 Cecil Collins.” 1988.
Figure 10 Cecil Collins. “Paradise.” 1976. .
But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. The Tempest. or else my project fails. Which was to please. has brought the play’s action to an end. And what strength I have’s my own.3 Modern Implications P R O S P E R O ’ S WA N D : M O D E R N E S O T E R I C L I T E R AT U R E In the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. And pardoned the deceiver. Now I want Spirits to enforce. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . the magician Prospero. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. Which is most faint. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. The main character. Or sent to Naples.
Rosicrucianism. Suddenly. where the poet-singer is. Warlick. In all of these esoteric traditions. in effect gives his wand to his audience. often little more than the accumulation of data. pansophy. having relinquished his magical power. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. Initially. As you from crimes would pardoned be. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. winged creature in an ornate room. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. there are numbers. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. is a prosaic matter. shows a tall. for most of us. also a magician. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. by virtue of his skill with words. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. To incant is to enchant. traditionally. E. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. to sing or to say into being. and Freemasonry. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. letters. via the main character. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. Let your indulgence set me free. Reading. Here Prospero. Here. standing above a reclining woman. but there is no transference of magical power. as audience. for example. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. is to touch the nature of being itself. That is. In this most magical of plays. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. today. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. it is often inverted and does not . to the audience.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. we realize that we. and words—often Hebrew. Conventionally. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. for instance. to invoke the forces of creation itself. and freed him. are the magicians. To be a vehicle for the right words.
but in that of the entire surrealist movement. However. his mother Jewish. not only in the case of Ernst. horizontal survey is of value. and entry. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. and so I will not discuss them further here. during which time his family sold their estate. as with Emerson or Rilke. to the magical fiction of C. secular or not. turning then to H. D. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 89 seem to convey a particular kind of esoteric understanding. Naturally. more . for instance. for instance. into the world of French intelligentsia. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. and perhaps for someone else to do.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). more or less. as with Yeats or H. After a good education. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. sometimes more implicitly. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. V. of even greater value is a vertical. Here. I will leave such a project for another time. While a broad. as can in fact be said of the works of. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. with sections on each of the major currents. But his learning is of a particular kind. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). D. the poet H. Canticle of Knowledge: O. (1886–1961). Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. D. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time.. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. split further into sections on poetry and prose. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. third. V. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. It is certainly worth doing. sometimes explicitly. S. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. Milosz traveled widely. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history.
its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. and Western esotericism in general. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. These Swedenborg saw. which are what concern us here. Goethe. hell. Not so Milosz. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. Milosz’s poetry. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. Eliot. come to fruition in literary form. One can. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. also a tactile visionary. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. . for that matter.90 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E or less like that of the early T. Diverse as this list is in certain respects.” However. Then. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. and both wrote in dry. Kabbalah. S. and. and became. as he saw it. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. in vision. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. Among these figures. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. of heaven. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. in fact. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). create a kind of lineage of such figures. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. William Blake (1757–1827). but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. who as we will recall in his latter years tried to reunite the bythen separated fields of the humanities and the sciences with his works on plants and color. and the dwelling places of spirits. and perhaps remains. theosophy. in 1914. Swedenborg was. a Don Juanesque figure. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. he experienced a spiritual illumination. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).
” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). and in particular.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. on reçu et savent déjà. de science et d’amour. from the cosmos. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. seems bound. having asked. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems.]”7 .”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. / Others. [For those who. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. The canticle continues: “A ceux. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. At this juncture. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. thieves of joy and pain. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. and also prehistory and archaic history. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. Cartographers of consciousness. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. qui. / Les autres. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. But the poet. astronomy. through a new metaphysics. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity.”6 Thus he addresses his writings not to the present age but to the future reader who will experience this new poetry and synthesis of all the disciplines. “setting out from proven scientific foundations.” which. seems called upon. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. crown of human knowledge. n’entendront rien à ces choses. and especially in Milosz. on 14 December 1914. have received and already know. as the organizer of archetypes. that he anticipated a new poetry. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. the passionate pursuit of the Real. to join up with ancient teachings.” telling us that “poetry.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. will understand nothing of these things. and like Blake. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. the observer looks outward. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. to awakening it in his reader. ayant demandé. and especially the figures we are discussing here. but indeed. knowledge and love.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 91 Here it may be useful to remark on the kind of new science we see emerging in these writers.
to the initiate.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. lumière. but truly fathers of sensible objects. from Pythagoras to Plato. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. ténèbres. “their substance is nameless. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. salt.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. sang. But characteristically. not like “Patmos.]”9 In other words. sun. but living.” Only divine poets see the world of archetypes and describe it reverently by means of the “termes précis et lumineux du langage de la connaissance [precise and luminous terms of the language of knowledge]. terre. Milosz once wrote in a letter that “there are only two kinds of men: the negators who profess irreconcilable systems and the modest affirmers who. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . darkness. blood. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive.” We think that the sensible world is situated. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses.” Indeed. those who are not affirmers. as well as the names of metals.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge.” writing that to understand the origin of language. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. soleil. / For these names are neither brothers. “meditation on the origin of language. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. etc.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. addressed to the latter. have received.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. light. earth. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. water. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. this “situated place.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. nor sons. he continues. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. and already know. sel. but negators. eau. of course. for “Tous les mots dont l’assemblage magique a formé ce chant sont des noms de substances visibles [All the words whose magical assembling has formed this song are names of visible substances. but it is not so. ni les fils. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge.”8 This gnostic canticle is. In fact. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères.
Adam. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. . is the “key to the world of light.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). he calls us to the celestial gold.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. Milosz tells us again. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world].” This distinction between truth and lie. when Milosz addresses us directly.” “De la magie des mots que j’assemble ici / L’or du mond sensible tire sa secrète valeur [From the magic of the words I gather here / The sensible world’s gold draws its secret value. [truth does not make sacred language lie: .” Simply that.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud.]”13 As we might recall. Milosz exultantly writes. muet comme le plomb. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. and only describes what he has seen. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. or in Milosz’s words. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. he tells us. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. a revelation. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. he implicates us in the poem. for as he told us before. mute as lead. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. And so it is here. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. that is.” There is the earthly gold. When he sings “the canticle of the sunlight hour of the nights of God” and proclaims the wisdom of two worlds opened to his sight. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. of the primal .]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. At such points. of blessing and of desolation. of love and of wrath. . and the gold of celestial memory. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. .]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. Milosz speaks to us directly: “Do you feel the most ancient of your memories awakening in you? / I reveal to you here the holy origins of your love of gold. . But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. Here. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass.
” those “lands of nocturnal din. and looked behind him. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. of light and darkness. innocent.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. In the concluding lines of the canticle. but “great trials of negation. and is the province of those who speak pure language.]”16 See. / being in place itself. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay.” and “marrow of iniquity. hideous. chaste archetypes. Milosz writes. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died.” selfknowing. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. in the visionary writings of Böhme. the only one situated. différent. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. “the Father of Ancients. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . [I am always in the same place.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light.” “immense.]” Then one day. / played with me as a father with his child.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. Milosz tells us. and this is the “solar egg. delirious.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced.”15 Here we find.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. / étant dans le lieu même.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. le seul situé. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. different. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. this immense. not light and serenity of recognition.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. Milosz muses on his early poetry. rather.” “the world of profound.” an “eternity of horror. Luciferic brain]. hideux. and a kind of corporeality of language.” We might recall that the mirror.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. of those who speak pure language. in theosophic tradition. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence.94 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E powers at work in the constant manifestation of existence. Thus. wise. we find a spiritual corporeality.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. for that matter.
but the descent into immense suffering and privation. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. between the lightworld and the darkworld. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. Beatrix. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. I touch your brow. et pour nos trois jours à venir.]” . Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. tendres métaux époux. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. and for our three days to come. trois vois—le signe. and his Hymns to the Night.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 95 remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang. and since we have now known one another seven years. [Dear child. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. let us make the sign.” replies Beatrix. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. tender metal partners in marriage.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. by the grace of inner vision.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. [1775–1802]). and clothed with the sun. to “tender metal partners in marriage. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference.” is unquestionably alchemical. is especially of interest to us here. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. le signe! [seven times for the past. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. “Master. again three times. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. as though the various elements of his mind were projected outward into a kind of initiatic psychodrama of the kind one also sees in ancient Hermetism or the Mysteries. This poem. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. innocents! [The parents sleep there. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. je te touche le front. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. Thus the canticle. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. at its end. Qu’ils sont beaux. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. you speak the truth. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. but refers to an inner alchemy. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. par la grâce de la vue du milieu.
The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. any more than are those of the adept. [My chains of constellations are broken. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. He opens his eyes and is reborn. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. The alchemical . Beatrix. [It is life liberated. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. white and pale blue. leaden and lachrymal. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. and to its incantory language. is reborn!” Thus once again. tu te délivres. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. “I see only one. “I believe it is. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. Beatrice. The woman in the poem. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. partaking rather of a heightened.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. he comes back to life.” sinks to the depths. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. yellow. The adept watches. of course.96 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E The language here is completely that of Hermeticism: indeed. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. woman. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy.]”21 It is. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. charity. and “Lumière de l’or.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. [Light of gold. and black. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. charitée. The Master forgives me. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. It may well be that Dante’s great poetry emerges through Milosz’s here primarily because it too is the unfolding of an ascent of consciousness in an inner drama. you liberate yourself. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. but the adept replies. And in the conclusion of the poem. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. I tell you.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée.” while the “oil of blind corruption. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama.
in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. by Milosz. in what it reveals. The incantory. as though the poet does not exist as an ego.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. eventuates in the birth of Christ in the alchemist or adept: all these traditions are brought together in the service of what we may call an Hermetic-alchemical initiatory psychodramatic poem.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. is also to participate in it. or rather.” and that “In the author’s mind. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. a light appears. the meaning attributed to this word is that of a legacy to a posterity as distant as possible from this fourth age whose death agony we are witnessing. oneself. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. the large cloud vanishes. rests in a horizontal position. by a metallic red-hot egg. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. after all. then? Undoubtedly. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. as unemotional as nature. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. perfectly awake.: initiate].M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. . At the same instant.” a “faithful and pious narrative. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. in other words.” The line is the fourth verse. one senses vast expanses around one. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal.
thereafter. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. moving up a little. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. Milosz . “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. on which it alights like a crown.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. He insists that in order to understand. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. just as he ignores and despises that world. one may even say.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. Perhaps we can understand more clearly what Milosz means when he quotes “the master Goethe” as saying that “Every passing thing is only a symbol. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. meaning the archetypal realm. becomes rounder. And authentic literature. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. he is among the most erudite of poets. because it springs from this archetypal reality. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. and in this there is a kind of reversal. Such experience is of the truly situated. its brutal mass wars. Without question. though including many great poets. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. but this lengthy excerpt is sufficient to show that even a single rather mundane line in Milosz’s poetry has behind it far more experiential referents than we might ever have expected. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. referring to the reader as “my son.23 There is still more. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. that. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. scientifically. at this point. It is perhaps useful.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. stands still. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. its secular hedonism and materialism. we must bow down. yet his erudition. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence.
Swedenborg. sought in them peace of spirit. passing through the Pre-Socratics.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. alias René Descartes. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. Claude de Saint Martin. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. the School of Alexandria. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. [a single new word the same / heart as in the time of the fathers beats in wood / stone and water of all that returns there is / nothing new all those things were sleeping / in closed books the books have opened themselves / beneath my hand. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. Eugène Ledrain. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. from Egypt up to today. that of the word and the book: un seul mot nouveau le même / cœur qu’au temps des pères bat dans le bois la / pierre et l’eau rien de tou cela qui revient / n’est nouveau toutes ces choses dormaient / dans les livres fermés les livres sous mes / mains se sont ouverts. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity.” where he writes of how “shade covers An-Dor and / Pau of the land of Esau covers Matred Tolde Beith / Aram and all Spared of Judea. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places.” and .]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. Swedenborg. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. Plato.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. Martinez de Pasqually. the mystical eighteenth century.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 99 wrote in a letter that he would like to lecture on a subject he knew thoroughly: “hermetic metaphysics and doctrines. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle.” Milosz continued.” recalling to us Milosz’s earlier poems and to his imagery of alchemical inner marriage and the revelation of divine Wisdom as the feminine spouse.”25 And he remarked elsewhere that he spent the best years of his life in solitude “getting drunk on the Holy Scriptures and nourishing myself on them. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word.
for instance. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. In his “Poem of the Arcana.” which are far more extensive than anything T. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. if we may coin a word. Nor is it coincidental that in 1933 Milosz published his close study titled L’Apocalypse de Saint-Jean Déchiffrée [The Apocalypse of Saint John Decoded] and. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. Germany.100 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E a mysticism that has “all those things” “sleeping in closed books” that open themselves under the poet’s hand. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. Le Forestier. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. Here. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. inside the books of life and of knowledge. the visionary poet. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. words. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. . and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. and the true poet. and books. in 1938. King of the unified world. science. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. Milosz held.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. that the work of the coming poet is to be a “crowning” of the New Testament as the latter was a crowning of the Old: “It is not a book.” in fact. Eliot. S. The legend of his assassination by three rebellious companions and of the discovery of his body by the nine Masters is only a figure for the death of Jacques de Mola.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. in short. . wrote for his poetry. Joseph de Maistre. King of the Unified World. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. Hiram. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. Hermeticism and Kabbalism.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. . the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. it is not books that we are waiting for. and art. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. Under the heading “Hiram. as early as 1919. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. and several other historians of the brotherhoods in their research on the origins of an institution which claims to descend from the Essenes and from the Priests of the Holy . my son. R. the universal regent of faith. the books open themselves to him. and Savoy.
relatively not distant. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre.” Here. like spirit and matter. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. he brings in the theme that. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation.34 And Milosz goes on to ask.”32 Here. like all the continents and all the states of this world.” He prophesies that “all laboratories of the highest thought will come to group themselves in an immense circle around the future Church of Our Lady. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. aspire to holy unification. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. especially the dream of a world utopia. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. who announced a coming millennium. Religion and science.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. Indeed.’ announce their impending appearance. He writes that “Today. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence.”35 All of this resonates so strongly with the Western esoteric traditions we have been tracing that it would take several pages just to explicate this single sentence in Milosz’s “Exegetic Notes. alias René Descartes. “Who remembers the enthusiasm and the hopes of 1789?” Such a question takes on added resonance when one considers the role that Freemasonry played in the French Revolution.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. as we have seen. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.
Our group will have no more than twelve members. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. but explicitly Christian. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. as we have seen. of course.”38 Such a group. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. and scientific fusion. And there are numerous other such examples. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. The Master alone will wear a red cap. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. however. the “science of the divine. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. among them its ritual dress. for instance. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends.”39 These dreams of universality. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. and that he deliberately. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. religious. not to say grandiosity. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks.” And in his little esoteric group. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. . Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. with a white collar. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. moral or social. sought the widest possible range. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. in his letter to James Chauvet. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. I am the enemy of exteriorization. of political. and the arts via religion. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. In his work.102 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E from antiquity through such figures as John Scotus Eriugena and Jane Leade to modern authors including Vladimir Solovyov and Nicholas Berdyaev. being the Christ-figure. Milosz wrote.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. For us. the sciences. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. the other members being his apostles. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. de Lubicz. in his work as in his private life. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). author of The Magus.
but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. D. There are. including such authors as William Butler Yeats.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. D. but toward the future. However.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. D. D. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. but also for the universality of his aims. astrology. we . today. Indeed. through his writing. numerology. not toward the present. S. and a new golden age. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). and essays. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. Lewis.’s poetry. of course. Like Prospero in his final speech. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. D. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. D. and Kathleen Raine. the poet H. H. which outlines the intertwining of H. In these efforts. the Tarot. a relatively obscure figure. Charles Williams. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. Indeed. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. Here. novels. There is in Milosz’s poetry and prose a peculiar hieratic quality and a special relationship to his imagined reader that will inform our final two chapters. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. magic. Rosicrucianism. C.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. D. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. That H. and Milosz. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles.. psychic insights or visions. Although we here will take our leave of them.’s life and interests. little studied in academe.
the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. We should begin.’s life it is repeated a number of times. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). like H. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. For it seems clear from her poetry. explicitly esoteric book. however. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. D. In his introduction to H. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. by recognizing that H. D. was fascinated by numerology. a cap of consciousness . D. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. D. astrology. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. D. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. D. D. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels.. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. D. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. In Esoteric Origins. as many critics have observed. H. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life.”41 Although the major works by H. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). as a wrenching spiritual awakening. D. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. and on the other Margaret Fuller.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. D. Likewise. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. for H. Margaret Fuller.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness.104 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E will explore how her work explicitly and implicitly initiates the reader through literature and art. Notes is a very unusual work. overmind. D. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson.’s early. mind.” Albert Gelpi writes that H.. save that in H. But when we begin to look at H. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. “The Thistle and the Serpent.
H. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. jelly-fish. affecting a little my eyes . centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. or awakening into the overmind. yet make one picture. indeed.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. H. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. D. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended.’s work has feminist implications. Whatever else we may make of it. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. second is the life of the intellect. D. one must. . I first realized this state of consciousness in my head.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. . some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. with the gulls and the sky and the earth.’s expectation of a few in the coming generation with the secret of the overmind reminds us of Milosz’s expectation of a coming initiate for whom his work is intended.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. The two work separately. fluid yet with definite body. my forehead. almost like two lenses.42 H. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. There are even traces here of Gnosticism.” The minds of the lovers unite. D. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. a musician. a nonsectarian. . syncretic . thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . is a gnostic with a small g. perceive separately. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. or anemone. It is like a closed sea-plant. D. She writes that to be a true artist.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. D. I visualise it just as well. As we read on through Notes. which is possible for all. we begin to suspect that this odd book of fragments is itself a kind of initiatic book of clues for those very coming artists of the overmind. like water. and perhaps when she concludes by conjoining Christ and Dionysius in a poetic vision of their unity with the divine mother as with all of nature. . as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. engage in a union of love and intellect. and third is the awakening into the overmind. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. transparent. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. now. contained in a defininte space. Without doubt. Into that over-mind. a musician. She places gnosis. except through the intellect. D. She does write about a “vision of the womb.”43 H. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. That overmind seems a cap. as primary to the true artist. H.
madness. / oneness lost. D. as these entities are “healers. / jottings of psychic numerical equations.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. dare more. boasting. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. of the “alchemist’s secret. D.106 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gnostic whose primary emphasis is nonsectarian spiritual awakening. D.” H. / here is the alchemist’s key. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension.” She writes. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. unlocked. . reversion of old values. and H. is a false path. the overmind being above it.47 In M. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. All-father. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found .” “arrogance.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. H. D. over-confidence. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. She writes “dare. In Notes on Thought and Vision. Here.”48 All of this suggests that there is .” we “nameless initiates. devour. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson.” H. / it unlocks secret doors. seek. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. spell. Amen.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. In this respect. .” “Tribute to the Angels.” And the section ends with “illusion. for instance. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. seek further. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. E. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. / companions / of the flame. helpers / of the One. pitiful reticence. she holds. D.” here. was lost in sea-depth. this.” and “The Flowering of the Rod.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. D. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. / born of one mother. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was.”45 “Amen.” In the next section.” who “know each other / by secret symbols.” mind “floundered. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. prayer” for healing. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. too. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra.
this passage suggests the complexity. / lead us back to the one-truth. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. artful and curious. D. but also those who come after her. D. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. / inventive. then writes: We have had too much consecration.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”.” “candle and script and bell. / in the light of what went before.”49 Thus. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. cryptograms. little boxes. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. H.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. D. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. too little: I know.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. illuminate what came after.” through painting or writing. too much.’s invocation of Hermes. devoid of life. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. D. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. but this.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. they are anagrams. . but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. In a well-known passage. conditioned to hatch butterflies . / re-vivify the eternal verity. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. continues. this. this has been proved heretical. too little affirmation.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past.” “invoke the true-magic. she is calling herself to a sacred task. H. The next work in H. I feel the meaning that words hide.” . the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. “patron of alchemists.”50 Here H. . The words themselves may resemble boxes.” whose “province is thought. H. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. D. symbols of Psyche reborn.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. D.
how is it you come so near. D. in the high-altar of a ruined building. D. the shattered glass of the past. is attempting in her poetry here. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. like a ghost.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. I testify. John. D. recreated by the poet. it was an ordinary tree. and so too by implication can we be. we saw the tree flowering. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. in an old garden-square. reinvoked in a new form. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. H. so too can the poet be. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible.52 These lines reveal many layers. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . was writing these poems.” but re-awakened. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. saw.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church.” One must “reinvoke. the poet must “melt down and integrate. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. D. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. the conditions under which. H.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). indivisible Spirit. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. H. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. after all. we entered a house through a wall. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H.
it is happening everywhere. and even more overtly. In it. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). In this context. Hence H. D. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. is a gnosis of the word.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation.’s poetry in general. the flowering of the wood. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. .’s poetry. alluded to. But there is another recurrent theme in Trilogy that we also cannot ignore and that is indivisible from this mysterious and profound experience of the divine: the figure of Sophia. nothing whatever. and Trilogy in particular. . D. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. the divine feminine. H. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. / . And this experience is gnosis. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. D. the next section is very important.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. conveyed through the poetry.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree.’s “Tribute to the Angels. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. This experience.’s vision. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. D. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. / it was a sign. D. In H. symbol of Hermes. music could do nothing with it. / it was the Angel which redeemed me.” This experience “was vision. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. H. D. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. / the darkness of ignorance. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. / it was the Holy Ghost—. with Saint Michael.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H.
D. Sophianic spirituality was in H. the scribe. whether it is con- . This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. And She is “Holy Wisdom. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift.’s own heritage. the writer. the thief.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems.” of artists and poets who “did not deny their birthright” but remained faithful to the spiritual origin and vision that is the fount of living art. right into the final poem. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom.” she of the Bona dea. as we will see in more detail shortly. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. and H. D. to her astonishment. D.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. brought into paradise with Christ. D. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. D.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure..” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. Here the refrain is changed to the words of Jesus to the thieves who were crucified with Him: “to-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise. under her “drift of veils. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. allied to Mercury also. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. for H.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. D. Hermes is the patron of the artist.” And She is also “Psyche. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. They are not.’s Trilogy. D. and that.110 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E appearing through Mary and through the ancient goddesses.” “Santa Sophia. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. the Bible.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. D. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared.” This refrain. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. and the thief. the butterfly. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. / who did not forego our heritage” . who is also redeemed. was a baptized Moravian. She who has been seen “the world over.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. obviously.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. in the context of the three poems together. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes.” H. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. Rather. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John.” “she carried a book. / out of the cocoon.
’s own notes. that until 1998. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. H. S. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. Yeats: to create or reveal a mythological net of symbols that reunites a shattered modern world and makes sense of life in the midst of total chaos. The Gift. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later.” with the experience of Christ. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. of mysticism. In her poetry. B. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. What is more. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. however. I suppose. we must turn to The Gift.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 111 venient for the reader’s ideology or not. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. Eve and Mary. D.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. D. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. as in the original. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. H. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. and the Trilogy exemplifies this complexity: it is a profoundly evocative collection of poems at whose center is a complex of religious experiences that cannot be understood completely except by recognizing their multivalence. Eliot and W. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. Likewise. D. D. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. To understand this mysticism more fully. D. It is not surprising.” all are interwoven here. fear. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. H. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. complete with H. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. H.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. Hermes and Christ. like Eliot in his Four Quartets.
Rimius’s works. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. In toto. H. We can see the extent and depth of H. itself. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. 1753).”58 About such accusations. D. 1794). was herself a baptized Moravian. make clear this distinction. Rimius. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters.” of the “Arcana. 1755). in . shaping the way that she intended it to be read. . but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. Pennsylvania. H. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. her grandmother’s father. though I must confess.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. & P. 1909). containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. it was in fact in her blood. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. Linde. D. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. D. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. D. in her notes.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. 1753). but one should recognize that there is a considerable difference between the Moravian Church of the twentieth century and that of the Herrnhuters of Count Zinzendorf (1700–1760) who settled in Bethlehem. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. D.” or Jedediah Weiss. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. “Old Father Weiss. in the middle of the eighteenth century. D. In other words. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. Pennsylvania. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. H. Knapton. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. had done her research. and he was born in Bethlehem. especially those now housed at Yale University. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. cited by H. But her interest in the Moravians took on a new intensity when she realized more about the esotericism of the original Moravians and of the charismatic Count Zinzendorf. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. D. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. H. D. Mysticism. Robinson. .
who through the course of the novel comes to realize the true nature of her gnostic Moravian forebears and their unique relationships with American Indian spiritual elders. Mother. conventionally the church. But The Gift is also an initiatory work in the other sense of the term—it opens up into an initiation into the spiritual mysteries of the Unitas Fratrum as well. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. D. there was no hint of this exoticism. into The Gift. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. respected and highly respectable. but also of the older poet H. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H.. The novel. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ.” She goes on: . an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. writes. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. referring to Father. D. D. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. We were a small community. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H.” H. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. to initiate the reader. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. and its doctrines as representing a pure. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H.”59 There can be no doubt that Zinzendorf himself and his early circle held views that were seen as unacceptable by the German Protestant establishment at Dresden. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. D. . it does exist. “you just stumble on it. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome.. Hilda. in short. . But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. The Moravian Church. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. and Son. D.
it is like that little flower that Mrs. In chapter 5 of The Gift. But there is more. I mean. . A word opens a door. Hilda is wondering if the word alone can serve as a means of initiation so that the spiritual mysteries of her heritage can be continued. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. “The Secret. . aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. That is how it is. D. Williams called a primula. Egyptian . Island of Wonders. that is why it is so quiet. The other bees have gone. . it is what the novel does for H. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. but Hilda (and along with her. The word is like a bee-hive. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. as some scholars seem to think. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. Rather. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda.” she told Hilda. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. men play a greater role than women. cut on a wall at Karnak. Hilda surmises. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees.” The first is when Mamalie. Then am I for a moment . but there are no bees in it now.60 This concept of a word opening a door into the lives of one’s ancestors and into spiritual mysteries is at the very center of The Gift. the story she tells is of a hidden gnostic tradition stretching back to at least the time of the Knights Templar in the medieval period. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. the word stops. this is the game I play. I mean. But really “live” it. A word opens a door . who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. and even here in her narrative. These spiritual mysteries are not. . in some aspects of the story. “Christian had left the Secret with me. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). Hilda’s grandmother. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . I was afraid the Secret would be lost. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. later learning it means Island of Wounds). Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. . indeed. .114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. these are the keys. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. considerably more of this theme to unpack. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge.
said Mamalie. of snow swirling.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too.” This scroll. Hebrew. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. done in their picture-writing. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. D.63 In The Gift. indeed. was to decide the future of the whole country .” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. altogether. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. the answer given by the Spirits. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. Greek. . but this was untrue. it is not a confabulation of H.” not just Minne-ha-ha.” “the laughter of leaves. though. bore the names of Cammerhof. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. in particular the Shawnee. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. kept in a birch-bark case. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. She and her . Pyrlaeus. . Mamalie continues. This rapport is historically verifiable. of wind. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music.62 Like the Templars.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. it was the laughter of the water. laughing all the time. is not Europe but North America. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. this laughter that ran over us.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 115 [reportedly] had been destroyed and obliterated by the Inquisition. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos.’s. “like scales running up and down.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. According to Mamalie. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. though. had a name for. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. so that “It was laughing. but all of them.
all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. At the novel’s conclusion.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. so much so that she never played music again. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. We have been shaken out of our ordinary dimension in time and we have crossed the chasm that divides time from time-out-of-time or from what they call eternity. Wunden Eiland. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. even refers to the American David Williamson. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. domination. having “burnt it up. and then.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. Christian Seidel.”69 The two worlds have become one. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. In her notes. who was to die at twenty-five. H. Mamalie.” about 150 Indians working in a Moravian settlement were attacked and about ninety slaughtered by ragtag American soldiers under the command of one David Williamson. D. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. And yet in the very final passages. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. The Gift. And in a subsequent event. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. In 1755. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. . and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. in an even more attenuated form. raining down terror from the skies. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed.” as “Aryan. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. called “New Gnadenhütten. so that the two of them shared in the original descent of the Holy Spirit just as Hilda was later to share in it through communion with it via what she calls “the Gift. those hiding in the attic burned alive. or Wounded Island. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. decoded it and she played it. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. said in her fragmented narrative.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic.
past and present. and future continually intermingle. D. as well as of timelessness and time. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. But above all.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. H. . Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. H. singing of the Wounds. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. As we have seen.V. both poetic and fictional.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. present. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. Her interest in spiritualism. for instance.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. D. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. Likewise. H. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. In this context. In her poetry and fiction. In her profoundly ambitious works. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. not merely as decorations.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. D. D. there. but rather is woven into her entire worldview.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. the more deeply one looks into her works. H. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. H.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests.’s English present. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. Out of the chaos and random destruction of the bombing of England in her Trilogy and The Gift emerge not only a palimpsest of Moravian past and H. Indeed. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. and out of which all great work is generated. D. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. Among major twentiethcentury authors. but as integral to her work. her work suggests that past. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. one of the original Moravian initiates. D.
the Light-bringer. in his pre-Eve manifestation. as history tells us. whom we invoke as Lucifer. outlined in entirety. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. through her fiction and through her poetry. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. H. Mystery and a portent. dynastic Egypt. early seventeenth-century England. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. although: I hardly knew my Lord.118 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E she found an esoteric religious perspective that recognized the divine feminine in the form of Sophia.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. legendary Provence. D. meeting and parting.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. parted in the dark. Lilith. late Rome. H. as Adam. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. D. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. Vale Ave. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. and all the rest was mystery and a portent.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. The Lucifer-Lilith. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. may be Angel or Devil. and its implications. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. and contemporary London. but it was only in her later work that we see it. true we had met in sudden frenzy. has the same root derivation as Seraph. We cannot conclude without reference to H. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. D. Elizabeth recalls him to her. yes. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. to be sure. but at the same time. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. After his death. through time—specifically.71 .
reveal a profoundly esoteric worldview that offers to its readers nothing less than an initiation into and an “inauguration of a new age and a new mythology.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. D.’s lifetime of work. and the Scroll. “the Mystery.” but a new mythology that turns out to be the grand theme of Western esotericism and that is perhaps as old as the mystery of the word itself.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. Here. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. D.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. as in poetry. the Writing. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction. the “springs gone under the hill. . but for our purposes the most important is the foregrounded theme of male-female spiritual alchemy that “may be applied to all men and women.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. that of ‘initiatory fiction’—novels and short stories whose evident purpose is to take the reader along into new and perhaps unfamiliar kinds of consciousness. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” .” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. . But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. The dead are living still. here again “the words laugh. Her poetry and her prose.” and again through it “I had the answer. Of course.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams. taken in toto. But my .” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth.” the mysteries of the holy well.” the holy presences withdraw. / infinity portrayed in simple things.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. I would like to explore not the art of magic.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams.
Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. J. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth).” “Their naked power. Here. the “true powers of Heaven. or Mercury. C. Magic produces. it is not an art but a technique.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. Tolkien. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular.” says Ransom. C. an alteration in the Primary World.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. J. R.” replies Ransom. “That is why they will work only through a man. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. it remains distinct from the other two. Let us take an example.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. saying “I have become a bridge. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. “one who by his own will once opened it. Viritrilbia. and the descrip- . for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. domination of things and wills. S.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. or pretends to produce. fay or mortal. between the production of an artistic “Secondary World” and a work whose purpose is also “alteration in the Primary World”? It would seem that in reality these two can coëxist in a single work. as one might imagine.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. R.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. John Ransom. R. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. and Charles Williams). fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. when we turn to actual works. R.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. invokes the Oyéresu. things are not nearly so clear cut. they will unmake all Middle Earth. S. Lewis.” “Sir.120 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E aim here is to explore fiction that carries the reader into the working of expressly magical ritual and experience.” But later in the same essay. seems reasonable enough in theory. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. its desire is power in this world. or Venus.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose.” which might best be translated as “magic. yes. here. His main character. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. and so forth. “The Descent of the Gods. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry.
” “He would have known sensuously. were it possible. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. In the beginning of the chapter.” the narrator tells us.” Merlin and Ransom tremble.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language.”80 It is not really possible. here. sticky gums . or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. sharp. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . . . to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. . A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. . ready to die.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 121 tion of this event is one of the most extraordinary evocations of magical working in literature. that the visitants in that room were in it not because they were at rest but because they glanced and wheeled through the packed reality of Heaven . and there we see a “rod of coloured light. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. . unmitigated. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. ready to kill. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. In this chapter. until his outraged senses forsook him. scorched. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. . brisk merriments. and the Blue Room. They experience “needle-pointed desires. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. They were blinded. . sweet-scented and full of desire. They thought it would burn their bones. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers.”78 This initial scene-setting represents a kind of portal through which we as readers imaginatively enter into what is happening in the two rooms: it represents the beginning of an initiation into this magical working. outspeeding light: it was Charity . where the invocation has its center. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. They could not bear that it should continue. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. bright and ruthless.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. in which none other than the ancient . Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. . so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. calling down the powers. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. deafened. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. They could not bear that it should end. But I would like to step back for a moment from the chapter’s narration and consider again Tolkien’s proposed differentiation between enchantment and magic. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room.
”81 I cite this prosaic finale precisely because it is so deliberately ordinary: it brings us back completely from the magical atmosphere of the novel’s main body to mundane life. and the Director (Dr. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. though one could easily imagine it so. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. and one with Merlin and Ransom).122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. but he always maintains a link with mundane life even at the heart of the magical working itself (by way of the device of two rooms. Anne’s. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. in a “secondary world” of fiction. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. About Williams’s novels. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. In other words.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. The invocation takes place. “Obviously it was high time she went in. In so doing. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter.” the seventeenth chapter. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. and by its end. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. one with ordinary people. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. she sees that clothes are piled inside. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. of course. Therefore .
and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. and insist on appearing again? Have I furnished myself with a dark familiar?83 Here Fortune gives voice to exactly the theme we are here investigating: how the writing of a book can be a magical act. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. allow us to enter into worlds generated by questions like: what if the Holy Grail were discovered to be physically real? Or: what if the Platonic archetypes began to “break through” into this world? In brief: Williams’s fiction is often initiatory. and decidedly corrupt ones. and her observations are revealing. On the other hand. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. I have put a great deal into it. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. . in general. In effect they are initiations. for instance. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. [Emphasis added. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. I am afraid. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 123 some may feel depressed or repulsed by the down side of his books and their evocation of the essence of evil. Who and what is Lilith. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. I wrote it. and how therefore the reader is in . for in the act of reading. they reveal forms of necromancy. By doing so. [Emphasis added. It was not written for its entertainment value. almost cathartic effect. to find out what it was about. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. For that. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. . one is also encountering new realms of existence. they unveil the power of archetypes and. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. not find it very entertaining. in fact. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. still Williams’s fiction is still by and large of a different kind from the specifically magical fiction that we saw in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have.
often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. for it is effectual. but Fortune was. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. I made the astral projection by the usual method. not surprisingly. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. who is Moloch. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. She gave rise to the character Lilith. a shabby. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. magicians call it magic. and I seemed to be in a strange room. The magic worked. which is the dark side of the Moon. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. untidy. after all. badly lit and ill-tended room. that is to say. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. In some respects. In the novel’s seventh chapter.124 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E some senses a participant in that magical act. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. Moon Magic is exemplary of this complementary relationship between the extraordinary events the narrator relates and the matter-of-fact tone in which such events are discussed. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. putting my cards on the table. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. It does not matter to me what it is called. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. like all of her . and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. appears clearly in her novels. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. the side She turns away from earth. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. I pictured myself as standing six feet in front of myself and then transferred by consciousness to the simulacrum thus created by my imagination and looked at the room through its eyes. Fortune’s novel. and imagined myself speaking to him. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus.
Not only were they alive. a young woman named Ursula . was consummately the logician. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. Rhodes. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well.”85 And so the book concludes. a fellow named Fouldes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. Holmes. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty.” The initiation we see in “A Son of the Night” is a simple change of consciousness: it is an awakening to the inner life of nature.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. and many others. As a character. at the end of the story. but I shared in their life. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. like Taverner.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. to “enter the Unseen. . one will recall. Rhodes.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. I was no longer alone. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). Thus Rhodes. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. After his entry into the Unseen. for I was one with them . decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. but perhaps most interestingly. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. Marius. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. The Secrets of Dr. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. Taverner. “in all things there was a profound difference. Rhodes’s initiation into nature magic corresponds in some respects to the natural magic of Merlin in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength: it represents a kind of foundation for other sorts of magic. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. at the end of this collection himself becomes an initiate by entering into communion with the wild and sacred heart of England: he too has “passed over into the Unseen. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. I had passed over into the Unseen. for. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. .
suddenly. like Astley in The Winged Bull. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other.’ ‘Yes. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. The girl he could do nothing for. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. and her half-brother. Frost and Wither are without mercy. ‘That is very much that. . but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. and in another moment the room was empty .126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. a bear of a man. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. ‘so that’s that. there are also depraved black magicians. Of the two books. they are without morality. cold and merciless. He was experienced in dealing with such things. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. breaking the embarrassing silence. broke and starred like a smashed mirror.’ said Brangwyn. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). an experienced magician. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier.’ replied Murchison. . Yet paradoxically. pure selfishness. In That Hideous Strength. they were getting it in the neck. but then Murchison.’ Brangwyn concluded. . It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. banked and double-banked. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. . .86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. and. but also logically. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . Then. among them men named Frost and Wither.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. ‘Well. The strange.
rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. and thanks to that. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. there are two kinds of magic— black and white—and the dramatic power of these novels emerges from the reader’s initiation into the existence of both. in this kind of fiction. Taverner. powers both good and evil. . This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. or with the help of an initatory. But Charles Williams and even C. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. helped by appropriate texts. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. S. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. Lewis. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. and Fortune. either alone. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. experience of magic.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu).M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 127 This is not merely a cliché: in order for the magical drama to go forward. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. Williams. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. there must be in these novels—as also in books of Charles Williams such as War in Heaven—a metaphysical polarity between good and evil. . In all of the fiction we are considering here. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. There is. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune.90 . Whether or not a disciple has a master.
initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities.” and thus to written works like novels. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. in literary form. we have seen that central to this initiatory passage is a tension between matter-of-fact or ‘ordinary’ characters and those experienced in magical work. Finally. since in the fiction we have been discussing.128 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E I would suggest that the order of these final points be reversed. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. thoroughly real. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. In fact. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. Third. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. Second. Williams. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. we may note that the distinctions drawn by Tolkien between a “secondary” world of artistic creation and the “primary” world of this earth do not hold for magical fiction precisely because magical fiction represents a passage between the matter-of-fact world that we are familiar with. if we may so put it.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. active imagination is essential. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. one is to some degree at least “refashion[ing] the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe” just as the neophyte character Wilfred Maxwell is transmuted by his magical work with the character Vivien Le Fay Morgan. then. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. Such a tension corresponds. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. . Indeed. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings.” What conclusions can we draw.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings.
angelic realm. E. It was not until 1994 that Brian Keeble brought out an edited book of Collins’s writings under the title The Vision of the Fool.. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. But it is in the work of Lewis that we find an initiation into magical working that rises to the multivalent level of full artistic creation. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. indirectly or directly. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. held in London’s Tate Gallery. and that like his contemporary poet. there remain fundamental differences. in the sense of Rilke. Still. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. higher aspects of nature and humanity. Thus. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. but also in Böhmean theosophy. which is why I have chosen to study them together.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 129 The authors we have considered here knew or knew of one another. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. transcendent and perhaps. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. Collins was a gifted aphorist. It is in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength that the reader can perhaps most powerfully encounter the transmuting power of artistic beauty expressing ritual magic that. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. Theosophic illustrations in particular. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. but with the publication of this book. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. As we have already seen. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. an important and genuinely original British painter. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. and his writings reveal in detail his .
By reading Collins’s aphorisms. the contemplative. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. 1945. A frustration of all that which is growing.” or again. Our time denies. But you exist. Denies the artist. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side.95 In 1965.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. and my life with you. of all that which desires to give. I long for my kingdom. Totnes. [14 January. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. I know of your existence. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. denies all who have inward fruit. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. to come to fruition. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works.” and in it he wrote that It is part of our democratic self-deception and sentimentality that we vaguely assume we are without an elite. for Collins. for he must ‘leap the gaps.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. the human being. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. of his solitary walks in the countryside. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence.” Ordinary life in the natural world. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. But here I wander. In Cambridge in 1945 he wrote acidly What an age to live in! It bites into you with a formless denying of the life in us. I long for my race. we are all exiles. and this from a comparatively early period in his work.’ must make intellectual connections individually. I remember you. In “Hymn of Life. is imbued always with spiritual significance. and I know nothing. A winter of the spirit is over all society. one is placed in contact with another reality through them.
” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. awaken this inner rapport in us. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. . the meaning. and the making of money. .96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. the instrument of art helps to sensitise the interior nature and to continually re-sensitise it when it grows stale and dull in the world of mere existence—the world of repetition. For like answers to like and creates actualization . Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. It can only be known by inner nuance. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. in Collins’s view. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. In “Art and Modern Man” he continues to discuss what art is capable of achieving: Art is a realization of what is and not of what appears to be[. rapport.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 131 who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate. .” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. but only by rapport with those worlds. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. The value of the artist is not to decorate. This is the same thing actually.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things.] art is therefore an instrument of man’s inner nature and it enables him to manifest in the phenomena of matter the nuance and living quality of his inner life so that his environment is no longer neutral or alien: a rapport is established. by description. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. by measurement or analysis. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness.97 Works of art. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man.
] it is consecrated and is now sacramental.132 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E As our consciousness becomes transformed we become more sensitive to a wider range of nuance and vibration[. We are all apt to fall asleep. in Collins’s view. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. in Collins’s view. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . we have no canonic culture of our own. the answer comes back to us from within them. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. canonical religions and ritual. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. religious. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. the unveiling of the atom. we have communion with it[.98 The work of art. in a “time of the apocalypse. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. rocks. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. it becomes qualitative. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. . is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. ‘Everything that lives is holy. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. he writes. and what is more. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental.” In his final remarks. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened.” He continues: We now have the possibility of this hidden unity of man’s inner world at last permeating the sphere of the exterior world and transforming it. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. and transmuted. the opening of man’s inner nature. We live. In the past.’ In other words. of mere desires. widened. his inner world. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. and that is the eye of the heart.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. canonic language. But there is something else that has to be opened. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. trees. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. the elements. spiritu- . .
a union of figure. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. such as “The Invocation” (1944). reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. and vibrant color. make it bleed. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. Many of these images have a strange. in “The Invocation. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. landscape is transformed as well. as in many of his visionary paintings. by patterns on the limbs and torso. What we are asked to do in the new age is to understand what the function of art is and to give our support and collaboration to the artist.” it is as though the black-and-white world of industrial civilization is being transformed before our eyes into the paradisal realm suggested by the awakening colors in its landscape. dreamlike. Often. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. her head bent back and contemplative. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. but that is uplifting and paradisal. too. like “Angels” (1948). while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. not afraid to wound the heart. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. landscape. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). the one with the sword. an active support. and the other with the light. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. In many of his later paintings. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. To gaze at this painting is to . their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. to the right a human figure with a sweeping robe that looks as though it rises out of the earth exactly as does the hill behind it. hieratic quality. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. the figures’ eyes are opened. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. Here. to the left the orb of the sun. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze.
Divine Reality. his drawings.. a world between us and it.’ sacred images. . But Collins offers these through visual images. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. In all of these works. chair. H. we then have ‘sacred space.. not least because his work includes not only images. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. D.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. in Collins’s view. Indeed. . that like Milosz. And it is also clear. he offers through his paintings.134 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sense anew Collins’s expectation of a new era. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. and indeed. as in the works of Milosz and H. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. and poems that illuminate his paintings. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. D. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). aphorisms. or altar. so that God becomes a table.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. Meditations. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. but central. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. Collins wrote in this book. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. by which we make contact with reality through images . he is like very few other painters. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. Lost paradise and . Poems. In another book. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. but also essays. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. Here. In this respect. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. like an electrical transformer.
the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. science. of course. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. and awakening gnosis. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. but rather. as Dionysius himself points out. for instance. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. the way of images and forms and transformations. Thus our third point: that . or way of negation. Strictly speaking. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. or way of affirmation. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. and the via negativa. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. and the arts in written form. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. as a means of transmitting knowledge. For in our overview of Western esotericism. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. these are the themes of these great artists. what we find is in fact the via negativa. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. or mere entertainment. to the conjunction of spirituality. although they may contain an element of play. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. It is. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. First. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva.
sometimes called by Böhme the . theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. and there is sheer transcendence. and so on. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. between the human and natural realms. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. ‘third element. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. there is only the division between self and other. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. works only by reference to this third element. Western esoteric traditions. and the divine. between humanity and the cosmos. psychology. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. hidden. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. And Western esoteric literature. geology. In a modern worldview. on the other hand. or Symbols. the cosmos. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. D. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. Ideas. Rather. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. sociology. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. chemistry.’ quantifiable knowledge. history. plant extracts. But in Western esoteric traditions. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. the divine.’ the divine.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. In modern education. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. Here is the essential division between a modern.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen.
in order to create. in this worldview. In brief. an artist. and a chemist. the absolute unity of subject and object. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. a theologian. alchemy. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. For the purpose of such literature is. Thus the artist. In all of these traditions. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. for all three of these poets. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. by definition a ‘seer. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. often seen as androgynous. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. cosmology. and by others the Nothing. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. biology. and literary expression. The aim of the esoteric . This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. first. but nothing. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. a mythologist. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. and his fall from paradise. a divine mathematics. This archetypal realm. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. or Fullness. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. Rosicrucianism. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. Adam. The artist. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. theosophy. is in fact prophetic.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. meaning by that not absence. or any of the other major esoteric currents. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. we find a divine art and a divine science. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature.
author of The Magus. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing .138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. In this perspective. or a pansoph. The complex web of influences and friendships among such figures as Barrett and William Blake and various Kabbalists both Jewish and Christian during this time may never be completely unraveled. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. Such a myth of universal fall and restoration also implies that behind the Babel of modern human languages lies a universal language that belongs to paradisal humanity. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. almost always denoting divinity. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. contains some secret of wisdom. which is to say.’”102 Likewise. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. pansophic. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. even from a single letter. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. Rosicrucian. where it arguably sparked the entire . but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. temurah. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. . Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. for instance. theosophic. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. an alchemist. a theosopher. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. and notarikon. . whether a Kabbalist. magical. the language of creation itself. Hence. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. and Masonic illustrations.
generally speaking . and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. in their cosmogonic mythologies the genesis of a new world was conceived principally as a glottogenetic process: the creation of new language obtained the paramount role in the realization of a new ideal world of the future. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity.” or the “Book of Revelation. and Masonry. it may be the “Book of Nature. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. Futurism.” or the “Book of Life”. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. theosophy.’ and this is not necessarily so. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. . In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. but certainly it is evident that this is an extension of a fundamental theme that runs through the whole of Western esotericism as it emerges in literary and artistic forms. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. following the various currents through Kabbalism.104 Obviously. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. Social Realism. influenced much of modern Russian literature. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. consequently. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. magic. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. certainly it may be the Christian . when surveying the various esoteric currents. and especially of written language and of the book. a synthetic magical language of unprecedented epistemological power whose ultimate function was to serve as a means of conjuring new life in the future world. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition.
and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. interrupted. and Geber. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. gurus. or masters. and what is more. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. In Hinduism or Buddhism. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. and so on back into antiquity. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. But what about Western esotericism in the Christian world? Why are there virtually no verifiable traditional initiatory lineages like those we find in other traditions? There are of course exceptions—one thinks in particular of Freemasonry and its claims to a continuous lineage going back at least to the time of the Knights Templar. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. even in this case it is not a matter of an initiatory master-disciple tradition in quite the same way as we see in Sufism. It is one thing for the Upanishads or the Sutras or the Tao te ching to be written down as a means of preservation and continuity of the tradition. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. which indeed still finds them audiences today.140 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Bible or the Jewish Talmud or the Islamic Koran. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. where the tradition . Islam. Even in the case of alchemy. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. Given our overview. but rather relied upon the written word. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. and indeed even farther back. Indeed. Hermes. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. However. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. much less in Christianity specifically. or nonexistent. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. for instance. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. or in Buddhism. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission.
but . Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. and in particular at its strange. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. One thinks here. Indeed. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. for in all cases. whatever one . who never revealed themselves publicly at all. often strikingly beautiful. naturally. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. Let us take another example. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. Milosz. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. of course. hieratic. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents.’ or ‘data’. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. have been adorned with copious illustrations. By contrast. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 141 focuses a great deal not only on mystical exegesis. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. Such evocation is. may think of his poetry. initiatory. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. V Milosz. to some future initiate in a far century. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different.’ a means of conveying ‘information. Such a view of the written word is. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. in addressing this far-off “son. That is to say. when we look at the writing of Milosz. These illustrations. In modern parlance. which in turn generated a host of further written works—as if the written word itself were the primary means of individual and social transformation. are not simply decorations. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. I believe. who. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. particularly the works of Böhme. Somehow. of Abraham Abulafia. Christian theosophic literature. but who rather offered the world only written works. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. dreamlike language and imagery.
does have an initiatic function—that is. through the turbulence of earthly life. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. by gazing at such an image. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. the lightworld of paradise. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic.106 To explain this phenomenon. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. represented by a cross. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. This metaphor—of sowing. that is. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. in other words. it is more immediate and visceral. for instance. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. the dark-world of hell. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. tending. reaping. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. I use the term ahistorical continuity. Obviously. What is more. Rather. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. so there is no need here to repeat myself. Such an illustration. and over time those seeds can take root. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. In my view. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. marked also “Sophia. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text.” or Wisdom. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. For instance. Taken together. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos.142 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E reveal in condensed visual form essential aspects of the theosophic tradition. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. and flower in the reader too. theosophic. which refers to . pansophic. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. grow. In this way. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical.
Thus. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. the daily news. you truly will know its worth. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites.’ a becoming familiar and even intimate with his language and vision until his unusual terminology and ways of expression become part of one’s inner landscape and view of the world. instead. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. Naturally. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. Perhaps. leave untouched the precious Names of God . although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. this function must be a change in consciousness. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. it can reëmerge in another. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. and are in earnest. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. Such a reader joins with the author. . without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. if you wish to use this little book aright. Here. one might even say impossible. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. as I am suggesting. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. and who have a desire to begin. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. or a biology textbook.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 143 the continuation of a specific esoteric paradigm precisely without any direct historical lineage. for example. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. If. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. After all. it is also possible for an individual or group to rediscover or reawaken a particular archetypal paradigm latent within a tradition without any direct contact with such a lineage. .
so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. . and become not its own possession. in his “Warning to the Reader. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. but. one automatically is caught in delusion.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. or has knowledge-of. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. which it sees as divine. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. the source from which they emerge.” If on the one hand. a prayer for noon. it walks in its own delusion.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. Böhme is quite adamant in his insistence that the aspiring soul must follow the difficult path of giving up selfishness and the arrogance of reasoning. so that consciousness shifts to awareness.”107 Or again.” “Be rightly warned. to become a channel for the divine current. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. he tells us.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. judgemental consciousness. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path.” or objectified realm. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. not by merely mouthing the words. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. and experience the divine directly. a prayer for the evening. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. Then that thing. and a prayer before sleep. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. and for when one rises. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. but the “instrument of God. a prayer for one’s daily work. and so on for the entire week. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. a prayer for washing and dressing. and second. this objectifying delusion.
the self in one sense continues to exist. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. but of the cosmos itself. although there are divisions between archetypes. Above. There is simply awareness. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. just as. or the divine eye that sees itself. divine in its origin. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. at the far limit of what we can express in language. we have the point of origin. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. then language must reflect this division. as are nature and humanity. conversely. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. of course. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. in the archetypal realm there is . for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. in that there remains an observer. love and wrath. in other words. where. or subject and object. between the divine and the natural. there is no sense of separation between self and other. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. There emerges a spacious or open quality. the yes and the no. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. In this sublime unity there is no congealing into an objectified self-other division—through paradox and enigma is expressed the sheer transcendence out of which emerges the dazzling archetypal realm. or divided from the divine. or perceiver and what is perceived. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. the origin not only of language. Here we are. Indeed. as we have seen. In other words. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. the light and the dark. For language is in its innermost nature divine.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 145 not even in relation to the divine. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. in Western esotericism generally. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed.
Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. or separation into self and other. Here we are beginning to discern how Western esotericism in all of its various manifestations or guises is fundamentally different from modern views in its approach to language. By contrast. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. and the participatory. The massive machine of the modern technological. in these esoteric traditions. or manifest more indirectly in literature. the divine is perforce unmentionable. suppression. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. secular. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. and the divine. but never owned. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. secular. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. this objectification of literature and literary theory has much to do with why such theoretic discussions are so often unreadable—from a viewpoint within the ambit of Western esotericism. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. nature. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. and so forth. Language. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. But by the late twentieth century. for after all. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. For Western esotericism. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. transformative. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. which is rife with the language of objectification. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. Undoubtedly.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. During this . in modern literary theory or theories of language. and objectified worldview. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. consumerist state was built from a materialist.
nature.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. and the arts. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. and on the other the burgeoning interest in Asian meditation practices—it would not be surprising if one also found the time ripe for a rediscovery of the Western esoteric traditions. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. too. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. L I T E R AT U R E . one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. inner territory. Buddhism. in theosophic works. at least for some. religion. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. magic or theosophy. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. If so. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. to name only a few. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. but also for society itself. after all that we have surveyed. A R T. psychology. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. of awakening latent. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. profound connections between humanity. the Lullian art. and the divine. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . troubadours and chivalry. including elements of the sciences. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. As we have seen throughout this study. which is to say. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. But to begin to explore this new. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. in particular. scientific or otherwise. To this we now turn. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works.
In this esoteric view of literature. and indeed. E. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. . A. It may be of use. ascends to “that high state where. images. he tells us. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. Indeed. 1867–1935). this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. A. but of reality. to turn to a poet. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. . and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. as the seers tell us. To use Plato’s metaphor. The poet’s psyche. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. . of charged and living images once associated with the gods. found throughout Western history. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. A. E. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. (George William Russell.”111 Unconscious of creation. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. not the life of shadows. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. In this view.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. E. at this juncture. a friend of Yeats. beyond history. tells us that its appearance was “as much a surprise to me as if a flower had suddenly glowed before me in the hollow of the air . to write presupposes already having seen. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. In his book Song and Its Fountains. and the divine. he simply began to murmur line after line. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. as we have seen. rejoicings. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. Western esoteric traditions have in common a special relationship with the written word that emerges from a very ancient and profound paradigm we find exemplified in works from the Book of Revelation to the alchemical Mutus Liber. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. nature.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. joys. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. Naturally. But A. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. E. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies.
”114 A far exile from that glory. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. analyzes the movement of consciousness. E.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. but all was a motion in deep being. Yet A.”116 Still. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. B. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives.” he wrote. though too often they have not kept faith . A. and after that images. E.”115 He understood something of the psyche. E. as Ishtar in the Chaldean myth had crown and scepter and the royalty of her robes taken from her when descending from heaven to earth.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. gone inward into itself. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. but of the universal spirit he understood little. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. the poet. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy.”113 This movement of consciousness A. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. “I have. looks upon the poet as a prophet. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration.”117 For this reason. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. E. E. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. was later translated into words. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. A.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. E. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity.” Thus. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. A. recognized his limits.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. Yeats. A. “and then what was originally a motion in deep being broke into a dazzle of images which symbolized in some deep way a motion of life in that profundity. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. E. and song.” he wrote. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. the creation of poetry in A.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. even if unaware of precisely how or why. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. later discussed with W. There was neither sight nor sound. from a descent after an ascent. perhaps surprisingly. it draws nigh to its own divine root.
a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion.” And there is more. But at times they still receive the oracles. and they wove into drama or fiction. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. returns to the cave of constrained or dulled ordinary life to create written works that are themselves also permeated with the seer’s visionary realizations. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. Throughout our investigations. .” The psyche. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. E. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. Thomas Bromley. for instance. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. In essence.”121 These insights of A. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. characters they had never met in life. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. may. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. or division into self and other. as did the sybils of old.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. . E. In Christian theosophy. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. when it becomes truly self-conscious. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . the further we come out of the animal Nature. And A. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). the view of literary creation that A. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. but which were real and which revealed more of themselves in that profundity of being than if they had met and spoken day by day. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. A. E. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. in that solitude we may meet multitude. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. .”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. without knowing it. E. they come “trailing clouds of glory. when we seem most alone.
and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. by A. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. One experiences great bliss. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. passive. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. and taken on a kind of life of its own. E. One becomes what one sees. In Bromley’s case.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. and experiences. say. like theater. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. E. which later emerge in poetry. in A. the author also is not directly present. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. although there is still an observer and what is observed. and nearer both to Heaven. and between the models that they represent. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. there also is participation in what is observed. or drama. irrespective of time or distance—and A. fiction. symbols. events.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. Likewise. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. in the latter case. a novel.’s case. In this realm. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. In the first case. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. But nonetheless. as if we knew them as neighbors. on the other a visionary poet. Of course. more powerful. or of Captain Ahab. where. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. the book or work has been separated from its writer. We are carried along on the words of the author. for instance. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. in between both author and reader. as if by happenstance. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. which no earthly Distance can hinder. Reading. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. and to one another in the Internal. and so requires our sympathetic participation. E. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. the poet is more like a receiver. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . and we must. For who. at least temporarily. and the world is shot through with light. absorbed completely in a book.
symbolizes eternal conditions. in alchemical work. the visions of the theosophers are real. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. and one has entered a new world. Perhaps. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. By contrast. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. drama. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. magic is real. writing. playing for keeps. it is indeed analogous to what is said to happen when someone engages completely in the practice of one of these forms of esotericism—the ordinary world drops away or disappears. of course. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. For when a reader engages in a literary work. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. our authors tell us. whereas the esotericist is. and books. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. We see this in the Book of Revelation. existing in a supraphysical dimension. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. or to have it stricken. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. for example. and one enters into the new birth. The difference.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. one turns away from the painting. we might reverse the terms. essays. presumably. Of course. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. fiction. but eventually puts the book down. We see this also in the insistence of Böhme that one must read his work with an attitude of humility and reverence for the divine or suffer lasting consequences by stirring up wrathfulness in one’s consciousness. between studying a work of literature or of art on the one hand and these forms of esotericism on the other is that the effects of reading a work of literature are limited: one is imaginatively engaged. . but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. Ordinary. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. And indeed. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. habitual self is gone. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. one could argue that what is ‘other’ in visionary experiences like those alluded to by Bromley is in fact merely a psychological projection of the ego. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. and in Kabbalistic practice. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real.
Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. or Kabbalists—by self-election. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. Abraham Abulafia. gnostics. the Kabbalist. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. R. the Kabbalist. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. R. their works like second nature. lives on. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. Meister Eckhart. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. the gnostic. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. Yet at the same time. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. but what came into existence through him. Jacob Böhme. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 153 Yet it may be that the two versions of the game remain essentially similar. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. Ramon Lull. Secret Societies. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. fiction. but there is much more to be done. so too is the author. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. If a primary aim of the alchemist. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. and may even connect profoundly with each other. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. But fundamental questions remain. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. is to attain paradisal immortality. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. Thomas Bromley. in the process of creating a fictional world. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. Nicholas . And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. Jane Leade. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. the alchemist. John Pordage. Johannes Tauler. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. the literary work.
154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. the author is reaching out. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. in the . to be guided by the author. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. In what could be considered the summation of his thought—the book The Beginning and the End—Berdyaev discusses the immense significance of Jacob Böhme’s concept of the Ungrund for religion and philosophy. to in Emerson’s words. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. Berdyaev tells us. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. “add it to his own arsenal of power. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. and consciousness. precedes all being. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. therefore. To what degree are these themes universal for human existence? Here we may step for the first time outside the sphere of Western esoteric and literary traditions.124 The Ungrund. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. moreover. for as I have discussed elsewhere. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. and indeed even God himself. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. literature.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. In being. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. taken together. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure.” It may well be. but in every case. There are two philosophers whose work is of special value for us in considering the place of the Western esoteric traditions in this larger context: Nicholas Berdyaev (1874–1948) and Nishitani Keiji (1900–1990). esoteric or not. And perhaps all forms of Western literature.
In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. It is knowledge. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. the artist.” he writes. and its expression in human creativity.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. “it is an end of this world. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. and therefore of division. or to put it another way. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. fictional. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. “Creative activity. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions.” and “is the beginning of a different world. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. Nishitani Keiji. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. a different sort of knowledge. and especially on the . Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. As Berdyaev points out. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. correlate to this? That Berdyaev is of paramount importance in contemporary philosophy I have no doubt—but his work in the end remains caught in the dilemmas that have proved so tragic for Christianity as a whole. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. of creativity. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. issues from existential eternity. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. particularly the arts of literature. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. the artist. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality.
As rational or personal beings. . It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. it is not something we are free to do as we please .”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. or perhaps better still. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself .”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature .” an “absolute openness. for faced with nihility. This intensifies our narcissism. emerges authentic freedom. . Nishitani affirms. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. . or “true emptiness. While this is our own act. and has the effect not of separating. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. Out of this transcendence alone. What .”128 True emptiness.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. one retreats into self even further. Nishitani. self-centered consciousness. and us from them. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. in other words. In Nishitani’s work. “an equality in love. egoistic mode of being.” Authentic freedom is. The force of destiny is at work here. self-identically. . Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. As we have seen throughout this study. . . is beyond definition. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. or rather in unison. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. and indeed. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. This is the field of shunyata. of course. the choices of the will. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. that is. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. what is the same thing. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. or the emptiness of all things.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. begins where we all are: with our ordinary.
in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. with nature.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. anything that can be read or written. including paintings. It can lead us. . political. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. or even linguistic construction. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. for all their diversity. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. so Western esotericism suggests. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. language is indeed divine. We read and are read. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. But in any case. seen as a whole. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. joined together with one another.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 157 appears to be other—the cosmos and the divine—turns out in this process of revealing the fundamental self-other unity to be in fact indivisible from our inner nature. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. a calling toward what we are meant to be. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. Paradoxically. as the sense of self and other diminishes. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. write and are written. have at their center this mystery of the word. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. The Western esoteric traditions.
edu ] for articles. See www.edu. ibid. See Arthur Versluis.aseweb. see Antoine Faivre. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. 2. a Dutch scholar. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism.msu. See Steven Katz. See also the journal Esoterica [www. I retain the conventional distinctions between the capitalized terms Gnostic or Gnosticism (when referring specifically to figures or the current belonging to late antiquity) and the uncapitalized gnostic as a more general term not tied to any particular era. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism.esoteric.msu. For an overview of Western esotericism.esoteric. ed. 4. 1992). 159 . There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. 5. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill.org. mostly by North American scholars. the official Web site of the ASE.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. Faivre. much of it in French. including Wouter Hanegraaff. The State University of New York Press series of books in Western esotericism edited by David Applebaum also represents an important contribution to this field. 3. 1994). in this field. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. See Hanegraaff. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press..
CHAPTER TWO 1. whether they know it or not. Mircea Eliade. ed. 10–15. Dreams. pp. Paragon House. 4. 151. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. 180. pp. 1991).. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. Ramon Lull. 1974). 2000). 7. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. See Versluis. p. See.. 83 ff. See Versluis. Nag Hammadi Library. p. 223. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. pp. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 2000). p. See Arthur Versluis. 5. E. See ibid. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. pp.. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. 248. 76–106. eds. 307. 1965). 37 ff. 2.. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. trs. 1996). See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. 140. 111. 97. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. Paul. 18 ff. 14–21. p. in Arthur Versluis. See Faivre. see also Scholem. 2. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception.. Translation is mine. See Frederick Goldin. Gnosis and Literature (St. Sophia. . CHAPTER ONE 1. op. pp. pp. Paul: Grail. Jean La Fontaine. Nag Hammadi Library. John Pordage. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. Myths. 5. p.. 3. 14. 1999). 9. 11. See Charbonneau. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. 1863). p. 1986). Peers. 309. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. 1975). Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. p. Paul: Paragon House. pp. 1978). and Mysteries (New York: Harper. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. 10. Paul: Grail. 13. p. 219–233. p. See Gershom Scholem. pp. Ibid. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. cit. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. 51–89. 4. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 1973). 2000). 1992). Victor Sogen Hori. 6. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. 145. 12. 8. 3.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. (London: Sheldon. pp.
28. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. Gershom Scholem. p. Tristan. 15..75.77. 1969). Twersky. Origins. 1979). Ibid.. p. op.. p. 246. Joseph Blau..76. 16. Scholem. p. p.331. Dan. 35. I. 280. 1983).351. 49–50. 1987). Ibid. I. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. M. I. I. Doctor Illuminatus. 27. II. et al. 1964). Ibid.C. (Hildesheim: Olms. pp.. Ibid. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. 10. 278. 51. see also Scholem.314. See J.B. 19.. 8.205b. op. p. See Scholem.. trs. Ibid. cit. cit. 26. 270. 394. 20. 52. 1992). 59. ed. p. 197. I. (London: Soncino. 1988). 61. 14. 12. ed... Simon. II. See. Ibid. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. p.. Ibid. 197. 66. 17. Cassirer. 21. IV .. 38. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 29. Ibid. . See Verman.. Ibid. Bonner. ed. See Pico della Mirandola. 1985). 22. 13. p. See A.. p.. See Moshe Idel. 9. 31. C. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull.. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. ed.312. 7. 37.. p.71. 33. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. I. Zohar IV . in The Zohar. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ibid. 1953) I. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. 18. 1986). 23. p.325. II.. 57. see also Moshe Idel. Cassirer. 101–102.80 ff. eds. 57. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. and Françoise Secret. Ibid. p..205b–206a. 1779). 1961). A. Ibid. II. Ibid. 1984). 11. op. cit.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6.320–323. 30. p. trs. 298 ff. Origins. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. See Arthur Edward Waite. 36. p.. Vasoli. Origins. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ibid. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. 32. 250. p. 34. See Mark Verman. 29. for instance.... The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. Opera omnia. 25. p. Ibid. 1965). 24. I. ed. See Verman.
“Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. See Versluis. 56. 55.102–104.681. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. 58. 43.. 1972). Ibid. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. 49. p..M. H. p. 41. table of contents. 40. 257. 60. 1997). ed. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. 1971). for text. 52. 37. Resicrucian Enlightenment. Hall. C.. 241. 44. Ibid. 129.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. 63. . op. p. see Donald Dickson. p. Freemasonry.P. See also Marsha Schuchard. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. ms. William Huffman. p. 54.. 253. University of Texas at Austin.. forthcoming. Confessio. der gantzen weiten welt . The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. Confessio. p. Confessio. 252. 260. 59. 77. 371. 61. p. . diss. Yates. for background. D.. in a group called the Round Table. The following page references are to Yates. 67. 255. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. for the reader’s convenience. 51. . Ibid. p. See Versluis. See Josten. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge.. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.. 49. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. I. The Alchemy of Art. and also written an extensive commentary on it. 1999).O. 47. 50.. See Codex Rosae Crucis D.. Ibid. Fama. 1784). See. See Frances Yates.77. 62. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. p. Josten. (Cassel: Wessel. Confessio. 42.A. 1975). Ashmole.. Ibid. 45. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . 1998). 251. 46. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. . p. See. Fama. I. cit. Fama. I have translated this work of Pordage. 1988). II. p. a cosmologist. 57. Fama.A. Ibid. Ibid. 246. From von Welling. p. Ibid. ed. Theatre of the World. p. p. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks.M. Ibid.. Frances Yates.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. a musician..D. 48. p. M.. Ashmole. See Versluis. a theologian. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon.. Secret Societies.. 1615). and even chart them astrologically. including two physicists. p. 220. and others. p. (Cassel: Wessel. 221.. 238. p. Ibid.O. 53. p. 1966). . 22. 242.
2001). 70. Freemasonry. Revolution and Freemasonry. 5. 1926). Religion. 162–168. 68. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents.. ed. op. pp. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. Ibid. CHAPTER THREE 1. Ibid. 170–171. On Emerson and Hermeticism. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. 414. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. p. pp.. 1967). Charge I. 1935). 71. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. p. 66. 110. O. S. p. Sloane. See also Schuchard. 11. 2002). Ibid. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. H. p. Faivre. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. D. Hugh Trevor-Roper. 268. the Reformation. pp. Paul: Grail. Mazet. p.. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 3. p. pp. . 409. Milosz. and Margaret Bailey. regulations . 1734). 170–171. See also Bernard Fay. and Albert Cherél. 1952). 1997). See Marsha Keith Schuchard. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. Ibid. M. cit. 66–67. p. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. pp. see also Max Ernst. 257–272. 191. 69. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. See James Anderson. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 65. ed. 2. 654. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. citing B. p. p.. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. 247–249.” 99–134. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. 9. 7. 1985). Ibid. 240. . 1992). V de L. See George David Henderson. 10. E. See Dickson. . 417. Brown. Franklin. p. 67. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. (London [Philadelphia]: B. See M. 1948). See Edmond Mazet.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. 253. (New York: Crossroad... 8. A. pp. pp. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. 256. Ibid. 4. 1992). The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. . see Versluis. 1997). Warlick. Ibid. Ibid.. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. M. 6. 172–173. changes. 39. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914)..
Ibid. 1996). op. 13.. cit. op. 23. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. p.. See W. See Versluis. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. introduction by Albert Gelpi. 464. 41. Ibid. Ibid. 37. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. 40. pp. Ibid. see Steven Bullock. 2001).. Milosz. 226–227.. 18.. 21. cit. p. Friedman writes that “From her [H. 248. 20. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 465. p... p. Ibid. H. 22. 455. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. of course. 174–175.. 158). Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. p. . pp.. Ibid. Susan Friedman. 277. D. p. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . p. 299. 297–298. See Versluis. 1989). Ibid. Ibid.. 28. D. Ibid. pp..’s] perspective. 178–179. For a more extensive study. 29. Ibid. 15.. 296. 303. pp. 224–225. 182–183. 34. 19. 157–206.. 24. Ibid. 1981).. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. 1982). p. and to what end? One might hope that critics would eventually cease to assume that there is always only a single thing called “esoteric tradition. 48–52. 31. 33. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. op. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions.115. . cit. 210–211. 38. trs.. Milosz. p. Ibid. Lib. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. Ibid. For the poet of the modernist era. 206–207. 25. Ibid. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. Milosz. 204–205. 27.1 ff. The question. I. 16.. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. p. pp. 32. pp. 1985).. pp. pp. 26. pp. Ibid. 469.. 30.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12.. see Versluis.. Ibid. 8–9. 35. pp. Ibid.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. D. Ibid. . 36. Ibid... I. Scott. ed. pp. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. 17. pp.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. 180–181. Milosz. 300. 14. Ibid. 39. 299–300. pp. 1994).
Ibid. Ibid.. 59. 60.. other authors we could consider here. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. 62. 2001). 53. D. 1998). pp. p. 223. Ibid. 50–51. 45. 165. 271–272. 222.. H. 64. p.” 1.. 156–159. D. D.” pp.” on which see TG. 168. 169. 225–246. 1989).. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. Ibid. p. 47..” 17. p. Georg Heinrich Loskiel... 43. “Notes. Ibid. Ibid.. pp. 66. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753).. 102. Ibid. p. 1988). see also. These passages were transcribed by H. H. pp. Ibid. 57. 67. 68. 67.. Ibid.... Ibid. Ibid. p. ed.. 49. Social Realism” in B. 32.. See. Ibid. 54. D. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. 19. 1967). 61. “Tribute to the Angels. Ibid. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. Kathleen Raine. 46. and I certainly recommend her article. 23. p. as well as this entire collection of articles. 73. p. The Gift. Rimius.. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 51. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. 39. Ibid. Ibid. 1. D. Rosenthal. 20. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia.. Warlick. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . 71. 56. hereafter cited as TG. 284–285. 157. Irina Gutkin. pp. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 35. Ibid.. Kraus. 66. Ibid. 69. 63. 55. 9. 44. 50. E..” 30–31. H. 48. 58. 20. 74.. See H. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. D. 154–155. Ibid. 18. 21. Ibid. See M. Ibid. See Jane Augustine.. 70. “Walls. 13.. 52. 259.. There are. The Gift. Futurism. “The Walls Do Not Fall. D. 65. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. for documentation..NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. 70. See H. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 17–19. rpt. Ibid.. p. 21. 29. 1997). p.. of course. 72. ed.... 50. p. H. 33. 24. 75. Ibid.
382. 95. p.. 76. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. noted hereafter as Vision. n. S. Faivre. 82. pp. 320. . Ibid. 96. op. Dion Fortune. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. Ibid. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 1994). including Fortune’s. Letters from England (London: Longman. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. Ibid. 20–21. 95. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. Southey.. Collins. 10. 101. 91. E. Ibid.. S. Ellis and W. p. Gareth Knight. 88. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. The Magical World of the Inklings. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. p. 1994) p.). 112.. cit. Ibid. 291.. op. p. 40. C. p. Gareth Knight. 87. 78. op. The Secrets of Dr.. 97. Vision. See on this point. 81. 239. Ibid. 99. 91. 102. 115. 1988) p. p..). 86. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. 94. 82–83..166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). See Collins. 197. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. 79. p. Faivre. 124–125. The Works of William Blake. 88. Ibid. pp. 87. 323. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. 322. p. p. (London: Quaritch. p. Ibid... Ibid. 1993).. ed. 70–71. p. hereafter noted as Meditations. 89. and Meditations. Dion Fortune. Meditations. Fortune. cit. 3 vols. Lewis. pp. p.. p. 1814). 21. Dion Fortune. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. Collins. Ibid. 85. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. pp. p... Yeats.. p. 77. p. 1990). Poems.. p.d. 40. 102. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. Vision. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. cit. See Antoine Faivre. so I have decided not to include them here. Lewis.25. See for instance. I. 98. C. 43. B. p. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). 92. 101. Ibid. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. 127. 103. Ibid. 1893). 90. Ibid. 1994). 1997). p. 80. retained his magical regalia in his office. 84. 154... 83. 104–104. 93. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. 100. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. pp.
forthcoming. 114. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. 199. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. Futurism. Freedom and the Spirit. p.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. Peter Erb. Knapp. Ibid.1. 120. 106.” 108. 105. 112. p. Ibid. 119. 126. p. p. p. Ibid.. 116. 124. Irina Gutkin. pp.. 40. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. Versluis. Christosophia IV . 95. pp. p. 111. Ibid. 106.D. 1958).31. Ibid. p. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.. See Versluis. Socialist Realism. pp. for example. Ibid. p. 170. 275 ff. I.1 ff. Ibid. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 1980). Nicholas Berdyaev.. Christosophia. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 40 and pp. II.. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. Ibid. trs. 1997) p. Ibid. p. 194 ff. 94. 125. 1978).. “Warnung an den Leser. 110. p. 122... I added the colors.. 117. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. 118. Diss. 71 ff. 93. .” in B. 109. p. 115. Rosenthal.. 127.. See also The Destiny of Man. See. 62.. 113. 108 ff. 107.. 1957). 25 ff.. 78. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. pp. IV . 128. 121. 62–63.. 63. p..” and I. p. 74. 130. pp. “Vorrede. 285. 103.29–30. Ibid. 225. Ibid.31. p. Ibid. p. A. E.. Ibid. 129. 105. 39. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. Ibid. Ibid. 1994). See Charles C.. ed. 123.. Ibid. 1991).. Nishitani Keiji. Toronto: 1948).
75. 56 Art. 4. 5. 105 Christianity [origins of]. Heinrich Cornelius. 143–144. 129–135 Comenius. Thomas. 140. 142. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 28. 35–43. 96 Berdyaev. Francis. 30. 63. 17 Blake. 129. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 55–67. Tibetan. 93. James. Roger. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 95. 42. 53. 22 Cordovero. 57. 89. 93. 25 Apuleius. 78. Sir Thomas. Henry. 79 Backhouse. Emily. 72 Consciousness. 28. 40–41. 141 Agrippa. 141–142. 24. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 14. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 53. 10. 25 Ashmole. 154 Book of Life. 20. 97. Arthur. 57 Beatrice. 81–82 Dee. Cecil. John. 59. 59 Dante. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 90. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 129. 147 Buddhism. Nicholas.E. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. Jacob. 138 Basilides. 56 Bahir. Moses. 150 Browne. 46 Christ. initiatory nature of. 94. Tycho. 5. Elias. 64. René. 80–82 Astrology. Abraham. Geoffrey. 94. 11 Dury. Giordano. 47. William. 99 Dickinson. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 28. 139. 148 Barrett. 45 Chaucer. 97 Cremer. 56 Baader. 81 Bruno. 28–29. 56 Amor Proximi. 2 Aurea Catena. 80 Böhme. 137 Boethius. 66 Corbin. 154 Dogen. 152 Brahe. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 75 Chivalry. Franz von. 53 A. 51. 63 Anderson. 5. 102. 1. 52. ix. 80. 81. 24. 148–150 Alchemy. 31.. John. 76 Buddhism. John. 96 Dee. William. 81–82 Descartes. Abbot. 40 Bible. 2. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 82–83 169 . 1 Collins. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 68–71. 18.INDEX Abulafia. 61–62. 77 Bromley. 68. 82 Bacon. 78. 27–28.
Michael. 19. 21 Heydon. 55 Koran. 109. Désirée. 12–15. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 102 Leade.. 72–73 Faust. 25 Hinduism.. 79–86. 102 Ernst. 106 Eschenbach. 97. 88-89. 69 Franklin. 27–28 Gnosticism. Susan. 57–59. Johannes. 46–52. 100 Hirst. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 104 Gichtel. 105. Max. 56 Maier. 138 Katz. ix. 83. 84 Lewis. 120. 54. 77 Flamel. 101 Freemasonry. 76. 10–12. 44. Margaret. 8. Mircea. Samuel. 139 H. 21. 126. 22. 89. Rulman. John. Johann Wolfgang. 111 Emerson. Gareth. 109 Hermeticism.D. Jewish. 123–126.. John Scotus.170 INDEX Eckhart. 85 Merkabah mysticism. Steven. 112 Imagination. Victor Sogen. 90. 84. Jean. 50. Book of.S. 46. 50. 63. Joseph Edward. 127 Frankenberg. 35. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. Meister. 82–83 Heidegger. 104. Benjamin. 5. 140 La Fontaine. Edmond. 9 Eliot. 104. 112 Friedman. Johann Georg. 112 Lull. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 89. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 56 Jerusalem. 22–24 Initiation. 75. 99 Grail cycle. Nicholas. 1 Keeble. 100 Marcus. 5 Hori. 153–154 Eriugena. Ralph Waldo. 4. Georg Heinrich. 102 Lee. Jane. Jewish. 42. 2. Joseph de. 95 Hartlib. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 151 Merswin. 9. 76 Maistre. Irina. 123. Martin. 29 Mazet. ix. 104. 127 Loskiel. 19 Faivre. Robert. 82 Knight. 101–102 Frey. 31 Melville. 105 Eliade. 56 Fludd. Antoine. 18–21. 2. 1. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 107. 36–39 Gutkin. Dion. 7–8. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 25 John. 129 Kelley. 153 Homer. 2. 21–22 Hermetica. 8–9 Larronde. 7–8 Esotericism. 56. 122 Koan.S. Wolfram von. Herman. Ramon. Albert. Edward. 11 Hutton. 29 Hiram. 103 Fuller. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 111 Geheime Figuren. 43–45. Brian. 100. 52–54 Kabbalah. 2. Christian. 19–21. 103–119 Hardenberg. 137 Goethe. Andreas. 68. 53. 80–81 Fortune. C. 19. 51 Islam. 78 Gnosis. 103. 140 Hippolytus. Carlos. 120–122. 77 Gelpi. 65. 30. 26–31. Francis. 28. 89–103 Hermetism. 89. 40 . T. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. Abraham von.
26–27 Moravians. 52 Pansophy. 115. 18. Pierre. 137. 67–69. 5 Minotaur. 58 Numbers. Christian. 63. 73. Thomas. 46. 37–38 Pascal. 84 Reading. 40 Milosz. 46. 2 Postel. Jean. 23–26. 123 Poimandres. sacred. 64. 40 Raine. Marguerite. 120. Book of. William. 56 Swedenborg. 17. 148 Platonic archetypes. 21. 32. 152 Richter. 99. 152 . 90. Bernadette. Gospel of. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 115 Pythagoras. Sir Walter. 8 Nishitani Keiji. Robert. 138 Stellatus.R. Czeslaw. 148 Seidel. Marsha Keith. 48 Mysticism. 47–48. 9. 39–40 Solovyov. 2. 148 Radical ecology. 53 Rilke. René. 19. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). Louis-Claude de. 103 Pyrlaeus. 19. 59. Kathleen. Gershom. 69. 140 Tao te ching. 47.. 60. 21 Poiret. 64 Roberts. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 99 Scholem. 87–88. Vladimir. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. Gustav. 115. 140 Templars. 90 Milosz.. 74. 116 Nature [concept of].V ix. 56 Moses de Leon. Paulus. 136 Science and objectification. 84 Pordage. 63 Rici. 112 Ripley. 108 Rimius. Jean. Rainer Marie. 114–115 Thenaud. 140 Tauler. 2.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 99 Prospero. 109. John. ix. 14–15. 89–103. 52–53 Revelation. 70. 56 Origen. 150. John. 53 Theseus. 94. 50 Schuchard. Johannes. 113. 99. 92. 141 . 18. 85. 29 Pre-Socratics. 112–113 Morienus. 71–76 Rousseau. Henry. O. 76 Parzival. 105. 14. 32 Plato. 8 Rosicrucianism. 43 Synesius. 116 Self. Johann Christoph. Emanuel. Blaise. 36. Andrew Michael. 99 Philip. 90 Talmud. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 11 Russian literature. 105. 79. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 13. 56. 76 Sufism. 90 Porete. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 108. 79. George. Samuel. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 25. 154–156 Norton. Martinez de. 52 Piers Ploughman. 87–88. 53. 139 Saint Martin. Gillaume. 110 Southey. Joseph. 103. 118 Ramsay. 92. 92. 103. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 57. 51. Johannes. 53 Theosophy. 4 Reuchlin. 26 Tolkien. Milton.R. 5. 66 New Age. 99 Pasqually. 119 Raleigh. 68. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 5. J. 4 Shakespeare. 69. 75–78 Paracelsus. 89.
103. 111 Warlick. 106 Washington.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. 2. David. 120. Georg von. 56 . 156 Zinzendorf. 31 Viterbo. Hugh. 84 Williams. 101 Weishaupt. M. Nicholas. George. 88. 110. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 35–43 Ungrund. 111. 89. Arthur. 79 Willermoz. 148 Zosimos. 53 Versluis. 55. Adam. 122–123 Williamson. 148 Zen Buddhism.E. 63. 104. 103. Charles. 82 Troubadours. 10. 140 Valentinus. 67–69 Upanishads. Frances. 112–113 Zohar. 137. 64. 103. W. 116 Yates. 10. ix.. Egidio Cardinal. 10. 75 Yeats. 86 Welling.B. 9. Jean-Baptiste. ix.. 48.
I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. along with its companion book.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. 1992).aseweb.esoteric. 1956). as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. Imagination.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. 2001). 1998). Theosophy. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. (Graz: Akademische. An exceptionally wide-ranging book is Wouter Hanegraaff ’s New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. Gnoses. 1998). 1994). 2000). eds.org.msu. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1975). (Leuven: Peeters. 1998). 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad.. Earlier. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. 1992). Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. 2 vols.
2002). Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. Paul: Grail. 1999). 1994). Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 1996). Gnosis and Literature (St. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Paul: Paragon House. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St.174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. Paul: Grail. . edited by Brian Keeble. 2000). and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. 1996). 2001).
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