This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
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 . Art. Literature.Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism.
ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. Suite 700. Occultism in art. electrostatic. Occultism—History. 3. magnetic tape. BF1411. II. art. I. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . Authur. 2.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. p. literature. Title. cm. For information. Anne M. NY 12207 Production. address State University of New York Press. paper) 1. Series.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. photocopying. Laurie Searl Marketing. Occultism in literature. mechanical. 90 State Street. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. recording. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. Albany. 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 .
Pansophic. Rosicrucian.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. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 .
Art.viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .
and Cecil Collins. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. C.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. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. but the work’s focus remains Western. ix . O. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. At the very least. art. but in keeping with my original impetus. Hence. At the suggestion of an early reader. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. Milosz. and consciousness itself.. figures. 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. literature. V. D. Lewis. H. traditions. but as the book took shape. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. In writing this book. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. S.
and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. including the adapted cover illustration. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. from Trilogy. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. xi .Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble.). © 1944 by Oxford University Press. 1985). Poems. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters.D. Milosz.D.. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. 2001). My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. 1994) and Meditations. V. from Trilogy.). the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. each of whom helped to make it a better work. de L.D. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. 1997). (Ipswich: Golgonooza. and to Studies in Spirituality. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious.1 Here. and one that has ramifications in many directions.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme.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. or conveying spiritual experiences. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. artistic. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. religious. the study of mysticism. even apophatic mysticism. and otherwise. literary.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. figures. provoking. but also. and perhaps even more critically. and metaphysical or transcendent. mutually 1 . however. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. are now appearing. These are not. Yet for this to take place. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. In this book. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. how esotericism is transmitted in the West.
or Hermeticism. however. Rosicrucianism. Jewish Kabbalah. Not at all. astrology. mysticism. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. Rather. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. . of course. magic. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. religious. or gnosis. astrology. including alchemy. however disparate. In particular. Freemasonry. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. philosophical. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. Undoubtedly. Here. left out of literary. or convey spiritual awakening. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. Christian gnosis. theosophy. In essence. Yet these traditions. and social histories. But the time for such biases is past. examples of it include alchemy. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. and about how we come to know. 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. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. magic. this must be our primary focus. do have certain characteristics in common. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. Christian theosophy. provoke. Like the koan. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. that is what this book is about. above all this is a book about knowing.
what their predecessors are. of course. . and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. Thus. In many respects. when a panoply of religions. sects. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. and there are many treasures to be found there. therefore. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. nature. despite their often almost bewildering variety. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. and to alternative forms of spirituality. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. about reading the stars. the Western esoteric traditions. a vast field.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. To navigate one’s way through these movements. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. By looking more closely at the origin. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. and cults existed side by side. when we look at Western societies. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. we find on the social front. and to understand their patterns and meaning. proliferating wildly. in my view. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. Western esotericism is. our time resembles the early Christian era. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. And underlying these is. which is often seen either as outdated. At the same time on the religious front. For as we will see. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged.
Greek in origin. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. we have developed machines that ‘read. why do we travel with . reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. we feel as someone else feels. of course. when we read the works of an Emerson.’ Unexamined here.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. reading here guides one toward gnosis. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. but can be transmuted. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. and will require much elaboration. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. And when we read a great poem. By contrast. refers to spiritual knowledge.’ that is. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. however. and ultimately with the divine. In every experience of literature. minerals and stars. purgatory. is much deeper than it might at first appear. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. The word gnosis. When we read a novel. and each requires the other. in other words.’ itself a metaphor for our time. If there are great writers. but with consciousness itself. 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. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. 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. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. imaginatively enter into different lives. Likewise. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. The mystery of reading is. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. and heaven. so too there are great readers. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. we enter into another’s world. or spiritual knowledge. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. What is more. also about union.
a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. We make connections. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. where we are from. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. What is more. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. and essays. like so many others.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. fiction. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. and when we read them. Rather. 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. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. drama. 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.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. we understand. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. 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. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. not about accumulating more information. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions.” 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.
most notably Western esoteric traditions. 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. grounded in spirituality. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. but also the even more primal act of knowing. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. or manipulation. it suffuses our language. In this respect. nature. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. indeed. quantitative.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. people most of all. one based not on division but on union. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. finally. and particularly literature. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . and everything becomes a matter of techné. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. 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. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. 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. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. but for connection and union. Those studying the humanities. from which we believe that we are separate. living divorced from humanity. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. and the divine. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. including people. the way we see the world. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. as if catalogic.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. everything. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. By contrast.
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 esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. And in North America as well. and so to maintain clarity. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. Indeed. But the fact remains that there are also figures. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. and groups in Western European and North American history. and consciousness. works. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. And indeed. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. The reader. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. .” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. however. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. 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. alone with an author. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. 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. and so forth.6 Subsequently. literature. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. In Western Europe. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. crystals. so too that choice still exists today.INTRODUCTION 7 ways.
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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-
through language and image. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. I believe. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality.” 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 the realization of nonduality. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. 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. in his Shobogenzo. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. . but into conventional consciousness . 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. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. . but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. At one time. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field.”11 This is. not beyond it. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. From this viewpoint. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. however.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. 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. then it is a breakthrough not out of.
By . particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. and thus also to the individual. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. Like the koan. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. as in individual daydreams. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. This is not to say that the West had or. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. frustrating though this may be. I believe. as I will propose here. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. 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 that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. What makes Western esotericism different above all. Rather. for that matter. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. 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. 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. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. I am arguing that in the West. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. as means of initiation. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it.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. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. 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. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. Rather.
guide.12 As a result. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. it is not for a general readership. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. the images. in other words. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. Imagination. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. literary or otherwise. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. For instance. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. 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. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. Obviously. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. the action by the act of reading or viewing. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. it is for the few. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. For example. This work is circumscribed. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights.
Initiates. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. Sympathetic readers. 2.” The gnostic. and 3. not one’s own. but here a new magical earth is brought . analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. graspable solution to a koan. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms.’ 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. But there is a third perspective.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. 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. which is what I am proposing here. who enter into a work imaginatively. and this too presents problems. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. to understand them. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. Yet if we answer “yes. 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. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. and nothing less. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. in other words. 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.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry.
but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. The realm of the imagination. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. What is more. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. to the divine power within that creates. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. 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. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. . but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. 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. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. is by its very nature one of co-creation. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. This. but resides in a continuum between the two. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. then. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. in sum. In other words. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic.
needless to say. and. what we may call a 17 . From relatively early on. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. 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. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. and resurrection. And to find these themes. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. we must begin in antiquity. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. however. This. Here. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. 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. The other kind of writing. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. the Book of Revelation. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. is profoundly different. death. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is.
the Word was not literal but spiritual. and on the other. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. that one can easily list them. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. and mythic. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. symbolic. multilayered approaches. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. In Christianity. as throughout world religious traditions. and indeed. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. literal. By contrast. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. or historical. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. of course. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. so rare—in fact. Consider. 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. on the other hand. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. the development of Buddhism. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. an ahistorical. The gnostics. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. or technological. should it be ahistorical. revelatory emphasis. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. we can see how anomalous it is. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. Of course. 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. legal. 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. for instance. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. be it scientific. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity.
but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. however much their literalist opponents think differently. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. and communion. one is in touch with inconceivable power. For instance. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. true pronunciation. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. the seeds of all things. here it is vertical. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. that is.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. a means not for one equal to convey information to another.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. just . We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. In general. 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. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. but of communication. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. chiefly vowels. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. who are worthy of it. and who else was accepted as orthodox. Who was rejected as heretical. and spiritual illumination. but such an approach is not for everyone. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. Likewise. asceticism.” 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.
so the letters were altered. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. basilisks. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. 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. inconceivable power would be set loose.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. as does the creation of images. are a means to creation’s redemption. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. 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 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. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. paradoxically conveyed often through . Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. 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. The letters. as principles of creation itself. thereby making this conflict inevitable. Letters and numbers. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. then. 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. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. and so forth. such images represent divine aspects. 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. through images.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. and so forth. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. but if the letters were properly restored.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. and macrocosmically. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine.
” but not like an ordinary sleep. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence.22b) . tells him. “there is communion between soul and soul. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. but share elements in common with all three. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. in symbols and myths. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. out of which emerges a “holy Word.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. in the first centuries of this era. 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. presented in the form of dialogues. which were also about death and resurrection. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. number.” From the very beginning. In at least some respects.” when he reaches rest and joy (I.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. letter.25).” the “voice of the Light. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. Poimandres. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. “for I am with you everywhere. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism.” (X. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish.” the being. There is no one author of the Hermetica. “I know what you wish. is self-evident. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. of the mysteries tradition. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian.
Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. and there is a witness to the revelation. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. It is. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. and . yet not strictly philosophical either. Like Hermes himself. Indeed. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. then. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. However. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. always there is a fluid. or direct knowledge of the divine. For from what we have said. Platonism. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation.” “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. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. mercurial quality to it. traditions. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. Christian esotericism. the mystery traditions. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. 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. they certainly intermingled.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. and Hermetism. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. 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. what we find is something quite different. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion.
and only then. mythology. . a door was opened in heaven. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. Rather. Although the vision has a beginning. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. a mesocosm. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. he is told to eat. present. or field of the imagination. came the following: “After this I looked. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. Yet interestingly. when he eats the book. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). a throne was set in heaven. once introduced to this sequence. he sees the twenty-four elders. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. and behold. and he interacts with them. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. . off the Greek coast. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. At one point. and where the earthly past. John. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. Then. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. in other words. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. questions. where John meets. and in the tenth chapter. a little book sweet as honey. in the fourth chapter. when he weeps. of course. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. apparently visionary time. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. beginning with the Revelation to John. saw and heard these things. And immediately I was in the spirit. and the auditory part of the vision began. However. There are. turned. and future are visible. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . and behold.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. Above all. an elder tells him to weep not. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. but take place in their own time. I believe that literature. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. and does eat. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and one sat on the throne. quite well known.
The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. angels.9). and Hermetism. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. and finds it bitter in his belly. which he does. and one hundred forty-fours.13).24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. In the tenth chapter. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. there are “other books. Additionally. But for our purposes. we will recall. and are in a sense initiates. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. Christian Gnosticism. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. 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 is united with its knowledge. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. a gnostic encounter with elders. found in Judaism. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. 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. all remind us of the prior traditions. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. And then there is. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. The Revelation.12). 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).” during these the end times. John is given a little book to eat. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. of course. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. twelves. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. One. the Book of Revelation of St. Taken together. the very book that we are reading. in other words. and by eating the book. but sweet as honey on his lips. becoming symbolically charged.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. Every aspect of life is altered. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. of course. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references.
hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. At the same time. at the mystical tradition. Rather. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. where an encounter may take place. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. the Ascension of Isaiah. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. the Revelation does not stand alone. words. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. including the two books of Enoch. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. at the Kabbalistic tradition. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. 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. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. all of which belong to the apocrypha. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. Yet because it became canonical.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. it is an image. splendid earthly form: but again. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. 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 . but among numerous other revelations from the same era. and what is seen. and what is heard. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. profoundly symbolic numbers. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. Of course. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. a hearer. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. and of James and of Adam. seen by a seer.
the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. or put better. 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. So it is with the story of Theseus. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. as wild as the book of Revelation. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. The analogy of electricity. for although the Revelation is the most well known. without relevance to oneself.’ of participation. and exists more for entertainment. or from exoteric to esoteric. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. And though we risk being burned. 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. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. to the transcendent. objectifying it. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. it is certainly not the only one. we are drawn toward it. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. more electric. In other words. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. a constellation of letters and numbers. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. far more than may at first appear. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. 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. Esoteric literature. to make it one’s own. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. how hieroeidetic a work is. often in a simple story. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. of being charged.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. ranging from external to internal.
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.
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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
it is the realm of living ideas or energies.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. 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. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. 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. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. or aeon. Indeed. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. 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. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. there is earthly marriage. which is of a totally different order. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. although we refer to them by the same names. or one will . and in religious experiences. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. For instance. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. 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. we become intimate with them. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. and the entire name had thirty letters. in the Gospel of Philip. and its light “never sets. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. not opposite or even complementary ways. we participate in what they represent. words.”3 In other words. VI. As we ‘read’ these images. in dreams.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. but different aspects of the same way. embody. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being.xxxvi). and reveal transcendence. and numbers emerge in. sacred images. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. the first of which had four letters.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. This name was composed of four syllables. we find plays on naming and namelessness.
the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally.”4 In other words. not to arbitrary designations. indeed. 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. but its inseparable companion. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. 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. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. evokes. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. for the aeon is fullness for him. the unnameable. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. . elusive. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. The cosmos is no longer opaque. 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. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. but is free in life and in death. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. gnostic paradigms. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. The world has become the aeon.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. not hidden in the darkness and the night. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. for such a one the world is transparent. Here naming refers. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. Rather. divided consciousness. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. when one dies. characteristic ways of understanding. is. The nameless and the named are not divided. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. but rather. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible.
According to rational consciousness. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. of the different properties of beings. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. however. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. Regeneration alone shows us the ground.”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. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. Even more intimately yet. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. woven together into a . Out of the gnoses of numbers. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. including Piers Ploughman. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. and therein we obtain the pure key. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. to which I have already devoted some study. What is more.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. On the lowest level. letters. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. which all proceed from the one only essence . whether visible or intellectual. which is the mystery of words and of the book. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. and are visible in major European literary works. on which conventional mathematics is founded. More intimately. A fourth characteristic is imagery. my dear brother. everyone. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves.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. . They are only the sensible expression. without masters. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. nor wholly from without. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. . a third characteristic. of course. By contrast. separated from the subject who sees. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. Here. in his own degree.
to become it. words. images. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. Egyptian. but also to convey it. Greek. and traditions best express his understanding. often do not hold at all. whether. . Jewish and Christian and Greek.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. from antiquity to the present. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. 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. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. letters. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. numbers. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. words. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. Roman. 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. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. and images. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. By following the courses of Western esotericism. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. taken together. Its mysteries of names. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. in one form or another.
we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. of course. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. 35 . The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories.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. sees her (or him. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. 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. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. in giving honor to his beloved. The troubadour. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era.
as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. But when we look at these movements as a whole. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. Much more likely that here. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper.E. for example. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. particularly the chivalric tradition. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. or love’s faithful. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. even surreptitious. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. Instead. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. . There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. that is to say. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. I think. likewise. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C.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. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. 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. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. is no. never explicitly discussing. Of course. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own.
there is no need to erase it. but there is another source. and this is the mystery of names. Hearing this. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. both pagan and Christian. occupying a middle ground between these. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. and has a rich reward in heaven. In any event. but God may have taken them back. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. For instance. for the name disappears. a hermit. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. that is. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. whence had come the Grail. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. worthy. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. we are told. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. Naturally. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. For. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. and to whom God sends his angel. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. noble angels. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. then the chivalric life is his one desire. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. He found that a man named Flegetanis. teacher of Eschenbach. those who did not take sides. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. . a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations.
like so many of the Western esoteric currents. Throughout the tale. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. and if he asked a Question. just as is Western esotericism more generally.” chiefly Saturn. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. Rather. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. in particular. 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. The Grail. He was to ask. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . the spotted knight.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. we are told to honor women. Parzival. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. like chivalric literature more generally. and that of all the Grail servers. of course. the knight is told by Feirifiz. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. And at the book’s conclusion. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. we will recall. Saturn to suffering. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. For instance. but also with the changing of the moon. When inevitably she does so. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. and at the end of the tale. then their sorrows would end. entertaining. and that is the exalted position of women. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. of course. remains this-worldly in emphasis. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. then naming them one by one in Arabic. Yet this implicit esotericism.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. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. exists both within and without specific religious traditions.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications.
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. of course. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. with the five wounds of Christ. part of a tradition that. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. is marked with a tiny colored initial. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. Gawain’s symbol. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test.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. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. the number of maidens serving the Grail. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. At the end of Gawain. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . And this green marks my second point of observation. as I have elsewhere shown. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. the five virtues. loving kindness. like Grail tales more generally. and piety. First. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. marking why Gawain is a fine man. courtesy. Once again. and. in Gawain as in Parzival. 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. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. in the image of the pentangle. he ultimately feels shamed. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. the poem. Yet in the story’s conclusion. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. continence. When Gawain. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. This famous passage. the first is the true knot. but with the five fingers. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. like several others in the poem. these being liberality.
yet at the same time.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. and renewal. like the chivalric orders. yet it is also the symbol of new life. to be renewed. Gawain. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. growth. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. pus nons val arditz.” The Friends of God were.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. not monastic or priestly. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. the hidden divine messenger. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. although a lay group. This same duality inheres in the color green.”] Or again. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. Or again. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. and the illicit.” or “the Green Isle. One does find esoteric themes. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. / And since talking directly can’t help us. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. perhaps cunning can.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. green is the color of nature.
calls upon the “book of memory. poems.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. La Vita Nuova. albeit more literary. we end by passing beyond space. Dante ends this strange work. This is. this time wearing a white dress. In De consolatione. time. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. and here. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. Thus Dante’s greatest works. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. with a final vision about which he will not now write. Boethius. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. thrice-blessed Lady. who lived during the fifth century. as does the play that we see here on naming. 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. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. as in the Divine Comedy. of course. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. philosophical.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. like the great Divine Comedy. 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. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. an intervening figure in the tradition. in the ninth hour of the day. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. of course. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. is a visionary poem. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. full of images. and his commentary. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . Dante sees Beatrice again. and words and ideas into the empyrean. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. but the faculty of imaginal perception. And of course. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. There is. and exactly nine years later.
bareyne trees olde. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. however. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. We see in Chaucer’s tale. 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. daunces” around her. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. knarry.” and by “kervere of ymages. instrumentz. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). Chaucer.” Thus this tale. yet he went further.” with “festes. known as a primary literary figure in English history. Here. And these are evoked . here. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. especially of the knight for his lady. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview.” In that “portreiture. But all the same. with an oratory. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose.” “gastly for to see. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. the theater of art. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. Chaucer was not an esotericist. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. Earthy. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. Like Dante.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. 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 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. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. caroles. marked east and west by gates of marble. above all. and of divine service.
the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. literature is not only entertainment. 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.” are familiar to students of . Ars brevis. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. like Chaucer. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. (part of his romance Blanquerna). it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. troubadour. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. and of course his most well-known and influential works. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. The Book of Contemplation. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. was prolific. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. and Ars generalis ultima. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. These terms. Lull. one for each of the 365 days of the year. For although Lull. Not surprisingly. At this juncture. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. In the ninety-ninth chapter. In fact. but with the advent of rationalism. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. we are given the meditations of the hermit. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. 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. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). and this is no accident. “knowledge” and “remembrance. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. until he was thirty. bringing together the chivalric. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered.” The Art represents. and indeed. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. given its astonishing scope. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. (a kind of chivalric code). not just a set of correspondences. The lover answered.
and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. Of course. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. but of those done with the wrong attitude. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. and writings in themselves. not of figures. he condensed his art into nine letters.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. This extraordinary art. and profaning holy things with figures. images. The cosmos represents the divine writing. ‘Yes. By means of these letters. invoking evil spirits as good angels. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . rather than my Beloved in the world. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. 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. and writings. Originally. And through presumption. west. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. Further. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. all errors are implanted in the world. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. most of all in the exposition of his art. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally.’ They asked him. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. Here we find a clear condemnation. Lull used more letters. However. and that is the book. north and south. images. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. we find the following: “They asked the Lover.’”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. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. and images. just as the writer is in his book.” In this falsified knowledge. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. as the readers of Lull’s book. that is. and by writings. we are also participating in this relationship. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. since my Beloved contains all.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. whose influence extended across Europe. out of arrogance or presumption. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. but for purposes of clarity. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work.
or that from the Ars brevis. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. what?. In the full art. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. for example. For instance. has vast implications. and so forth. whether?. triangles. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. 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. prudence. For this reason. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. tables. it includes and transcends logic. concordance. and gluttony. and avarice. trees. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. E—Potestas.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. angel. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. and numerous other arrangements. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. depending upon how the letters are combined. I— Veritas. 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. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. 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. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. God. The Lullian art. justice. 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. found in the Ars compendiosa. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. B—Bonitas. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. for instance.” C signifies “greatness. . Hence in many respects. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. B signifies. difference. Lull himself combined them using circles. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. At the same time. Of course his work is unique. “goodness. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions.
Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. French. Rather.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. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. 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. intricately woven. but what is more. the words. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). 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. and Freemasonry. . whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. Christian. of course.or eighteenth-century German. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. It is. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. 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. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. In these traditions. however. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. And as literature. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. the chivalric. troubadour. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. but this is virtually never the case. Rosicrucianism. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. or English gnostic.
And in fact. for instance. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world.9 Yet at the same time. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. and elsewhere in Europe. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. But the Bahir. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. disclosing them only in parabolic language. and cosmogony.8 But for our purposes. dating to the Talmudic period. terminology. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. “The affinity with the language. also may have roots elsewhere. and thus Kabbalism. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. 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. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. The book Bahir. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. For instance. Castile. 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. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. number. and Kabbalism more generally.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. .” Scholem concludes. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word.E. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism.
and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. the tonal accents. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. In section 124.” Indeed. But in any event. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. 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. but another view. 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. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. writing the Names of God) and through this power. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. which comprise a total of 613 letters. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. including the human body.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. For example. 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. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. and natural realms at once. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. caught up in the spirit. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well.” (that is. informing the cultural. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. spiritual. but here takes on the meaning of “com- .”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. supported by some contemporary testimony. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. said to symbolize the abdomen. for example. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah).10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet.11 Of course. as a female is fertilized from the male.
is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. but My Face will not be seen. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. and yod in turn becomes twenty. 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. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. . in this context. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. Here. 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. eighty. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. . so to say. from reading this extraordinary work. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. in the Fountain of Wisdom. . whispering. speech. utterance. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. all are found in this Name. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. all comprehension and thought.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being.” which may or may not itself be an “a. corresponding to yod.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses.”14 In other words. made transparent so . action . one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt. voice. yet when these Names are removed. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. inquiry .” 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. we are told. an ¯ “ether. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. For instance. the tenth letter.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. forty. is allowed to ask questions. and 160.” One can easily see. or aleph. Through this kind of multiplication.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. .”18 This.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. the essence of everything.” about which no one. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. not even Moses. out of it emerges the Names.”17 By investigation. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life.
is not only cosmological. All of these exist.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. then. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. but also metaphysical. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. including thought.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. as Scholem remarks. not from this side. 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. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express.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. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. 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. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. sometimes without.20 For that matter. Indeed. broadly speaking. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. that of hardened or congealed materiality. Medieval Kabbalism. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. emerges. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. but from the other. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated.
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
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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
Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. . For Kabbalah. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. In the twentieth century. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. after all. which is. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. much less the possibility of transcendence. Here.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. and beauty. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. Such an approach to literature. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. literature represents portals into the transcendent. Spain. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. surface is nothing and depth is everything. where one finds literature and religion fused. But before discussing these implications. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. Indeed. or vice versa. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. however unfamiliar to us today. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. that ultimately all beings will be saved. that is. To such approaches. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. And when we look at Kabbalism. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. or vice versa. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. In the eighteenth century. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. intricacy. ramified throughout religious and literary history. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral.
Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. not entirely ‘pagan. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. Of course. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. itself also highly literary: the koan.’ yet not entirely Christian. forces one to wrestle with it alone. as the “art of Hermes. to work it through. However. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. So too. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. as we saw earlier. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. When we look at European alchemical works. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. Indeed. on the other transmitted by way of literature. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. we cannot help but notice religious references.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. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. hence on the one hand religious. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. like the alchemical expression or riddle. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. . operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. To the first-time observer. alchemy. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace.
as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. George Ripley (fifteenth century). in the revelation of paradise.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. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. All of these authors did write on alchemy. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. . The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. Olympiodoros. even if it does not entirely belong to these. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. as has historical placement. thirteenth century). or animal into its paradisal original true nature. After all. Indeed. the embodying of spirit. or the animal kingdom. 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. even if its work resembles these in some respects. alchemical literature. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. For alchemy extends into many realms. or al-Rhazi (ca. put another way. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. 825–932 C. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. Ramon Lull. and takes place by way of fire. 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. and the spiritualizing of the body. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted.E. the vegetable. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist.E. either. that is.. plant. a tradition transmitted through literature.—latinized as Rhazes). Roger Bacon. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. be they in the mineral. and Morienus of the seventh century C.. Synesius.E. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. Thus. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. at heart.
only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. . bracketed by mythological references. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression.” In other words. Here. of course. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. it is enough. and gave it to us by mighty toil. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. Maier. . We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. physician. “The Golden Tripod. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. If thou knowest the substance and the method. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). . He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . and are to come.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. and author Michael Maier. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. seek not many utensils for thy labor. His title. composer. and thou knowest all. Indeed. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. Thomas Norton. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. which Vulcan cast into the sea. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). in his preface.” that is. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. were. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy.
Shortly thereafter.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. is at once literary and practical. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. over a fire.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. despite its elliptical means of expression. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. and that which is palpable. to become impalpable . On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. the queen a three-flowered plant. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. before him a burning barrel. Here you see the perfection of our Art. to be invisible. 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. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. the king bearing a staff. including two archers shooting at targets.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. on the far left side a single candle. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. and proved of the greatest efficacy. . a king and a queen. being bereft of images . that which is visible.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. a half-naked man with a scythe. and a man sowing seeds. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. and this Mars has done.” pleads the case of her husband. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. while around him are various figures.” With its spiritual essence. . a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. and to the queen’s left. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. experiences a renovation of his whole nature.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. in the background a dead tree stump. as well as an angel blowing a horn. the Sun. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. while the Moon.
But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. 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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. and two of willow charcoal. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. and tortured for four years. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. strong and pure. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. his last testament. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. In recent times. so as not to lose legibility over time. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. Cremer in this. 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.”35 And indeed. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. and so was let go. 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. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. a man named Herbert. 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. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. we can understand why he should impose such conditions.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. and prepared in about four days. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. Dalton said he was happy to die.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. we are told. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. two of living sulphur. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. three of rabusenum. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. of course. Such. of . two of orange arsenic. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton.
” consisting in the imaginative landscape. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. one branch of alchemy. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. But in any event. but also through the power of the imagination. We may ‘read. To say. and animal realms. literary allusions. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. Spagyric medicine. but is joined with them in the imagination. water. Paracelsus tells us. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. Imagination governs the development of things. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. then. ethereal counterparts. poems. Confronted with such a colloquy. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. one may know the inner nature of anything. not all evestra are benefic. vegetable. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. Through these evestra. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. Of course.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. allegories. not only by looking at words on a page. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. 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. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. air. epigrams. And of course. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . for they occupy different dimensions within it. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. According to Paracelsus. to carry it within. not merely from the outside and as other.’ then. its subtle essence. fire. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way.
geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. light air. emphasize their recipe quality. but that in this particular worldview. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. The terms used in its title—oil. . like Valentinus’s. indeed. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. and mist. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. . Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. 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. as a spirit. philosophy. Genesis 1:27. 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.74). and this is characteristic of the work as whole. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. and so forth.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. II Chronicles 13:5.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. fire. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. 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. these two poles became further separated. a matter of . it is entirely real.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. Of course. the true medicine and theology. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. . including Romans 1. may be interpreted in both ways at once. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. wine.” and to a host of Biblical references. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. but here are clearly spiritualized. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. more real than what we see in the physical. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. like Cremer’s testament. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. It is as though here alchemy. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . . This is the true Ground of Nature . The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. while others.
But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. is a perspective that is all depth. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. inward dimension. like Hermeticism. Oil. or Water is. and one three . a true Astrologus. In fact. Salt. Thus. However.80). as a kind of counterpoint. And so we find the three One. Water. in harmony” (II. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual.93). in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit.77). and when either one is absent. nor whence they emerge (II. the depths. Yet alchemy. for instance. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. we are told. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. the author writes “That the earth is dark.83). but the Sun light. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. but here. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. and a true Medicus. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. easily translates into a dominant religion. of existence. that is the mystery wherein all lies. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. these terms have an alchemical provenance. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward.83). just as we find for instance Islamic . There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. spiritual dimensions of the work. Fire.105). and hence we find a Christian alchemy. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. . what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. . Oil.
Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. including “Chymie” or alchemy. and gnostic metaphysics. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. The implication. not merely a pastiche. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. This is not . we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. 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. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. 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. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. on salt. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). Indeed. But such rumors aside. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. 1675). and of the third. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. astrology. of the second. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. on sulfur. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. astrological. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. beginning with the organization of the first section. and he and his spiritual circle. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. of course. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. on mercury. Pordage’s work.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. and Kabbalistic themes. Kabbalah. from spiritual to physical.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). Christian theosophy.
meaning the transcendent Godhead.” and so forth.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. but might well also be called pansophic. Christian scripture. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. . Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. diagrams. charts. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. . . he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. Indeed.” “Thronen. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet.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. Here. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. or mercury. including D. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. . the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). sulfur. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. in other words.” Further. For instance. 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 . and “Manna Coeleste. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. das himmlische Manna genannt. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. and calcify it by hand. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. of Pisa. At the same time. then in a Liquorem . he elided many details. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). to properly prepare mercury. diagrams. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. “Alchimische Fragen. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols.” “Cherubim. and instructions. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . 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. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). tables. with a plethora of astrological symbols. and in this regard he succeeded.
or grammars. but even more in the perfection of humanity. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . animal. water. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. as well as with what these represent. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. air. Alchemy. broadly seen. recipes.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. including not only chemicals and equipment. One must learn both to ‘read. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. of course.’ in the broadest possible sense. of course. a natural homology between alchemy and art. Alchemy. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine.’ There is. alchemy is like learning to use a language. both seek to perfect this creativity. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. but also in the microcosm of the artist. however far-reaching. 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. Thus we may well say that. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. and images. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. In this sense. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. so that everything—mineral. vegetable. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. is a relatively modern phenomenon. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. letters. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. and that we will shortly examine further. for example. like a painting. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. In some respects. we can easily see. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. and to ‘write.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. Here. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. fire. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period.
albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence.’ in the case of alchemy. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. and the restoration of the right . However. The ‘solution. between the observer and that which is observed. humanity. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. 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. extends into a range of realms at once. 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. and the divine. It is true that more recently theorists. I would use the word decoding. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. humanity. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. But in alchemical works. Rather. both of physics and of literary criticism. 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. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. This is by no means to suggest. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. no doubt of that. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. like Jung. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. like those of science.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. and the divine in ever more profound ways. were one to decipher what x and y mean. In Christian terms. Indeed. and science are one. Here in alchemy. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. between subject and object. Oral commentary by a master is important. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. 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. one would have the solution. in the manner of a mathematical equation. nature. literature. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. Contemporary views of literature. In alchemy. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. religion.
Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. against ourselves. pansophy. but in relation to a host of other currents. nineteenth. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. and Freemasonry. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. 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. PA N S O P H I C . especially during the eighteenth. in particular Christian theosophy. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. and against the divine. between the sciences and the . divided against the world. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. and twentieth centuries. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. Rosicrucianism. We should also keep in mind the growing split. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. Indeed. in the modern era. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. So it is with alchemy. As we have seen. In the study of Western esotericism. R O S I C R U C I A N . the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. 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 it is to these that we will now turn our attention. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . Whereas in the medieval period and earlier.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives.
Rather. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. It is true that. archaeology. to name only a few of the most luminary. and in religion. comparative and syncretic. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. The Copernican revolution. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. at least in the secular world. However. quite the opposite movement. say. nor is that our aim. near Poland. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. the emergence of biology. in the arts. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. Indeed. medicine and astrology. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. in Western esotericism we find. chemistry. illustration and literature. our approach being thematic. the fields of alchemy. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. explored theology and metaphysics. this sense of unity dissolved.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. a city on the eastern side of Germany. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. as well as De Signatura . nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. in the sciences. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. But Western esotericism. including. wrote literary works. and Franz von Baader. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). and geology. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. the discovery of more complex technology. and drawing from his visionary experiences. John Pordage. or Aurora. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. physical chemistry from metaphysics. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. practiced medicine and astrology. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. rather than seeking to separate.
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
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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
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. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. The Rosicrucians’ goal. R. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. even if at times such orders did exist. translates the “book M. and this is the “book M..” C.”46 When C. But in any event. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. 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. generally speaking. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . of Christian theosophy as well. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. And of course this brief work. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. are to be collected by the wise. like us. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. and later.” into good Latin from Arabic.” These “Books of Nature. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. like its complement the Confessio. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. R. R.. For from the very beginning of the Fama. Indeed. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. according to the Fama. returns eventually to Germany. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. C.” however. they could collect Librum Naturae. R. Hermeticism. Not coincidentally. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. and why he is called Microcosmos. in the Orient. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. “or a perfect method of all arts.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. caused a great stir in Europe. if not universalism.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).”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is.
by four persons only. The description is often hard to follow. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. are now. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. the foundations and contents of all faculties. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. .”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. called I. like the book. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . Yet once again. or are able to believe or utter. Interestingly. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. . the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. is. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. undestroyed. . with a large dictionary . “After this manner. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. so that no one might later be deceived. sciences. every one with their several figures and sentences. Among other questions. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. full of geometric symbolism.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. and come into our brotherhood. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. wish. or hope for.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences.” the Fama continues. and by them was made the magical language and writing. than that which is the head and sum. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. 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. but follow only Christ. first. belongs to the mind and imagination. and shall be) hath been. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. they also made the first part of the book M. and of reading the mysterious book of books. of eclecticism or universalism. recur as well in the Confessio. and hidden to the wicked world. and withal by reading understand and remember. that you could so read in one only book. . and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. . it is to read the universal book. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. a century old.” There is more. and arts. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed.
into all beasts . with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. the Bible. a very long history in the West. . yea. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. All of this. and above all.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. . a new era for mankind. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. metahistorical events at the end of time. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. . . and endue them with learning . who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. 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. and have found out. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. yet shall we never be manifested . in the Rosicrucian mysteries. yea. a new language for ourselves. or worse than nothing. 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. or sixth age.”55 The implication is that here. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. without and against the will of God. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. of course. of course. . and writing in a “magic language.”52 “These characters and letters. and quite probably to Egypt. . stretching back at least to the Gnostics. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit.” Such an idea of a magic language has. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. and made. with the date 1604. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. for instance. for instance.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . unto any man without the special pleasure of God.
as Frances Yates notes. who. Here. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. peaceful. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. 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. or why. disappearing around 1620. that is. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . the Confessio. 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. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. Here. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. brilliant.” 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. on a pansophic mysticism.’s tomb. was of a non-sectarian. and the outrageously baroque. demons. 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. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. 1604. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. or intelligences. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. John Dee (1527–1604).” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. R. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. as well as in subsequent literature. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. By 1623. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. particularly in France. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. discovered the “Enochian language. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. The Rosicrucian dream. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. or pansophia. and it too has been used in magical workings. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment.
and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. derived from alchemy. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. We might recall that. and Michael Maier. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. in order to form the basis for a new. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. not specifically Christian. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study.p. mechanism. The most obviously included is natural magic. In many respects. in contrast to theosophy. cabala. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. cabalistic. or magia naturalis. and gnostic. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. It is true that chemistry. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. Ruechlin. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. 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. is universal. of course. Paracelsus.. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). The pansophic view. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. alchemy. and technologism. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. Christian or not. Pansophy. magical. 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. alchemical. various forms of magic. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. which is specifically Christian gnosis. 1618)]. 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. often with Kabbalistic influence. for instance. herbalism. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. healing. it emphasizes magic. including.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. and inquiry into nature more generally. but like Dee.
The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. of vast and intricate tables. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top.A. nee non Magia. as a somewhat medieval figure. In some respects. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. planetary correspondences. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. magic squares.. and a series of . a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. Among the first of these. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. D. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. Philosophia. even if it is illicit. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust.M. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. almost all. Metaphysica. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. in later Rosicrucianism. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. including sorcery. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. including a French edition titled F.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. Cabball. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. and much else. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. de La Rose-Croix.O. et Hyperphysica. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. But Chemistry].57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. we tend to think of Faust. diagrams. chiefly under the title Physica. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin.
” and has on either side gnomic sayings. and Holy Spirit. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. that is. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. in scholastic theology. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. Son. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’.” and so forth.A. in time and in eternity.M. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm.O. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr.A. partaking in both. 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.” “Heavenly Seed. marked also Father. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers.” and “Mineral Seed.M. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. for instance. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. of its hyperphysical dimensions. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. here we have a different focus. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. Here. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world. . in visual form. and with the word Chaos. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. 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. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water.” “Animal Seed. John Dee.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. for instance.O. surrounded by winged angelic forms. or to Rosicrucianism.” “Vegetable Seed. the greatest occultist of his day. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. of course.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below.
a prolific chronicler of the unseen. invented an industrial process. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. which. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). in other words. of course. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). of course. One sees this also. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. Another such figure. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. the arts. or the Temple of Wisdom. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. Freemasonry. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). stretching right into the nineteenth century. author of such works as Theomagia. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. was John Heydon. (London: 1665). not a visionary. not so very long ago. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. unlike these other more individualistic movements.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). each of which guarded its particular mysteries. but published only in German). And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. and associated with the vast . the social and political realm. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. theosophic. originally a scientist. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. who studied minerology. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. science. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. For all of the Rosicrucian. truly a Renaissance man. and specifically. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge.
the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. Fludd. Jewish. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building.” published in Leiden. Of course. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. and during this time began work on his major treatises. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. Indeed. and although . of course.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. Plato and the Bible. Robert Fludd went to St. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. Sir Thomas Fludd. in 1616 and 1617. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. the arts. on which he explicitly drew. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. 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. his father. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. having received a knighthood for his military service. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. Like Paracelsus himself. Indeed. but the Freemasons endured the longest. Masonry. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. and Rosicrucianism. 1617). and the sciences. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. Such publication was. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. the Kabbalah. 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. semireligious occult fraternity. 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. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. to a speculative. not surprisingly. of course. Martianus Capella and. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. John’s College in Oxford. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic.
”61 But for our purposes. But in any event.” Elias Ashmole. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. 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. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. Arthur Dee. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. 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. Dr. and back to England.60 Then again. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. By the early 1630s. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. astrologer. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. John Dee. Himself an alchemist. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. Marin Mersenne. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. Ashmole. and assiduous bibliophile. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. 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. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. Dee’s son. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. born to an aristocratic family. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein.
He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. and must remain so. after recording this revelation. using a symbolic metalanguage.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. .64 These three men. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. 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). All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. was not simply an antiquarian. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. except to his own spiritual son. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. never referred to it again.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. . Samuel. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). and only philosophers of the English Revolution. or as Kabbalistic. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated.”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. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. . when Backhouse thought he was dying. The true name is hidden. were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. but they are in any case gnostic. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. All of this. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. of course. one could ignore it. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. the real .” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany .62 Backhouse’s father. of course. and John Comenius (1592–1690). . It is significant that Ashmole. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate.
whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. 3. However. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. 2. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. But most important for us is the final point.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. Early in the eighteenth century. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. 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. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. . Freemasonry. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. Also important here is the third point. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. needless to say.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. Arts and Sciences.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. . like the symbolism of alchemy. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. The aim of a magical language is. . . 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. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. Chymical. Such a language. according to the Constitutions. . but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . 4. Philosophicall. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. and Mechanical.” certainly a pansophic goal.
. Ramsay. it is not surprising that this project. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. a theosophic circle in London. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. The work has already been commenced in London. England. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). great. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. . and those who insist on a much more exoteric. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. deism. and master mason. including. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . became prominent in French Masonry. In this oration. And during this time. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. especially in England. In it. fellow craftsman. with its general tendency to reject. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. for instance. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. nonsectarian basis. 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. solid. or ignore esotericism. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. while publishing numerous books. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. Italy. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. announced in Ramsay’s oration. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. had an exoteric. luminous. After her death. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. suppress.68 Within Masonry itself. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. On the one hand. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. . one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). and indeed. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. excepting only theology and politics. On the other hand. especially in France. fraternal Freemasonry. Masonic values of rationalism. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity.
and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. theosophic. Freemasonry. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. As we have already seen. Rosicrucian. of human and divine architecture both. that is. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. based as it is on the craft of building. six for the clergy. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. In other words. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. and six for the fellow craft. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. even to this day. which is as follows: one word for a divine.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. Indeed. In the Graham manuscript of 1726. God has sealed the six directions of space. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. 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. to wit I am. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents.” In other words. specifically. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes.”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. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. I answer it was God in six Terminations. . the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. by which.8).
and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. in Western esotericism. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. the theme of our next section. but as the actual medium linking humanity. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. Finally. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. of course. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. Rosicrucianism. . or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. pansophy. which has been sporadically realized by individuals.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. Here. and Christian theosophy. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. not just as the means of communication among people. And this role is played out through reading and writing.” or signature. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. not consume it. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. nature. including alchemy. and the divine. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. magic. For according to Western esotericism generally. including humanity). its secret “silable. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. Kabbalah. Here. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. What is more. Masonry. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. Above all.
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 ) .
Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) . from .
Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme.). Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. . edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.
oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme.). . Theosophia Revelata.
Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.).Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. .
Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph. Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. O p u s M a g o .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 . as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye. . (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 7 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. Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration.
.Figure 8 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). O p u s M a g o .
otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. .” 1988. “The Music of Dawn. and the evocative.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. 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.
. “Paradise.” 1976.Figure 10 Cecil Collins.
Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. Or sent to Naples. And pardoned the deceiver. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . dwell In this bare island by your spell. The Tempest. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. The main character. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. the magician Prospero. has brought the play’s action to an end. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. Which is most faint. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown.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. or else my project fails. Which was to please. And what strength I have’s my own. Now I want Spirits to enforce.
and freed him. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. Initially. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. Suddenly. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. to invoke the forces of creation itself. To incant is to enchant. Warlick. In this most magical of plays. it is often inverted and does not . but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. and words—often Hebrew. in effect gives his wand to his audience. often little more than the accumulation of data. Conventionally. we realize that we. Here Prospero. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. E. winged creature in an ornate room. by virtue of his skill with words. To be a vehicle for the right words. That is. having relinquished his magical power. where the poet-singer is. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. In all of these esoteric traditions. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. Rosicrucianism. to sing or to say into being. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. there are numbers. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. Let your indulgence set me free. via the main character. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. to the audience. traditionally. letters. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. is to touch the nature of being itself. for instance. but there is no transference of magical power. as audience. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. also a magician. today. for example. is a prosaic matter. pansophy. Reading. standing above a reclining woman. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. for most of us.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). we may read in order to gather information about a subject. and Freemasonry. shows a tall. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. are the magicians. As you from crimes would pardoned be. Here.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails.
2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. and so I will not discuss them further here. as with Yeats or H. secular or not. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. as with Emerson or Rilke. Milosz traveled widely. and perhaps for someone else to do. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. D. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. It is certainly worth doing. However. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. third. of even greater value is a vertical.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. Here.. for instance. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. (1886–1961). Naturally. split further into sections on poetry and prose. While a broad. into the world of French intelligentsia. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. for instance. sometimes more implicitly. D. V. D. Canticle of Knowledge: O. S. more . his parents somewhat cold and aloof. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). But his learning is of a particular kind. with sections on each of the major currents. as can in fact be said of the works of. and entry. to the magical fiction of C. more or less.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. horizontal survey is of value. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. his mother Jewish. turning then to H. the poet H. V. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. After a good education. not only in the case of Ernst. sometimes explicitly. I will leave such a project for another time. during which time his family sold their estate.
so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. Goethe. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. for that matter. . Kabbalah. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. Among these figures. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). and became. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. which are what concern us here. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. Milosz’s poetry. Then. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. as he saw it. and the dwelling places of spirits. also a tactile visionary. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. hell. Swedenborg was. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. in 1914. come to fruition in literary form. a Don Juanesque figure. These Swedenborg saw. and. and Western esotericism in general. Eliot. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). of heaven. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. and both wrote in dry. theosophy.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. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. William Blake (1757–1827). to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. create a kind of lineage of such figures. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. in vision. Not so Milosz. One can. he experienced a spiritual illumination. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. S. 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 from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. in fact.” However. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. and perhaps remains.
and especially in Milosz.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. the passionate pursuit of the Real. seems bound.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. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. from the cosmos.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. crown of human knowledge. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. Cartographers of consciousness. as the organizer of archetypes. / Others. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness.]”7 .” telling us that “poetry. knowledge and love. and in particular.” which. and also prehistory and archaic history.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918).” or “Canticle of Knowledge.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. have received and already know. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. de science et d’amour. / Les autres. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. to join up with ancient teachings. ayant demandé. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. having asked. will understand nothing of these things. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. [For those who. that he anticipated a new poetry. qui. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. to awakening it in his reader. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. through a new metaphysics. At this juncture. n’entendront rien à ces choses. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. and especially the figures we are discussing here. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. seems called upon. thieves of joy and pain. astronomy. the observer looks outward. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. but indeed.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. and like Blake. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. But the poet. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. on 14 December 1914.”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. on reçu et savent déjà. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. The canticle continues: “A ceux.
lumière. those who are not affirmers. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. soleil.”8 This gnostic canticle is.]”9 In other words. terre.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. but truly fathers of sensible objects. but it is not so. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. light. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. ténèbres. and already know.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. 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. / For these names are neither brothers. In fact. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. But characteristically. have received. sel.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. but living.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle.” 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].” writing that to understand the origin of language. this “situated place. he continues. as well as the names of metals. “meditation on the origin of language. earth. etc. of course. “their substance is nameless. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. but negators. addressed to the latter.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. not like “Patmos. sang.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. 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. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. darkness.” We think that the sensible world is situated. eau.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. to the initiate. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. sun.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. nor sons. ni les fils. blood. water. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. from Pythagoras to Plato. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire].” Indeed. salt.
/ In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. muet comme le plomb. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. he implicates us in the poem. is the “key to the world of light.” “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. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. . which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. 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. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . .” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. he tells us. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. or in Milosz’s words. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). he calls us to the celestial gold. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. At such points.” Simply that. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. And so it is here. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. Here. Milosz tells us again.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. 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. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. Milosz exultantly writes. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. of love and of wrath. and the gold of celestial memory. of blessing and of desolation. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. . / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. of the primal .]”13 As we might recall. for as he told us before. . Adam.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. and only describes what he has seen.” There is the earthly gold. when Milosz addresses us directly.” This distinction between truth and lie. that is. mute as lead. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . a revelation.
]”16 See.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. le seul situé. / being in place itself. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted.”15 Here we find. hideux.” “the world of profound. but “great trials of negation. In the concluding lines of the canticle.” an “eternity of horror. wise. Thus. Milosz muses on his early poetry.]” Then one day. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. chaste archetypes. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. rather. Luciferic brain]. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. and a kind of corporeality of language. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . and is the province of those who speak pure language. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds.” and “marrow of iniquity.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.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity.” We might recall that the mirror. / étant dans le lieu même. [I am always in the same place. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. Milosz tells us. différent. for that matter. not light and serenity of recognition.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. hideous. the only one situated. different. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. and looked behind him.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. of those who speak pure language. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. and this is the “solar egg.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. this immense.” “immense. / played with me as a father with his child. we find a spiritual corporeality.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. innocent. in the visionary writings of Böhme. Milosz writes.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. in theosophic tradition. delirious.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation.” selfknowing. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it.” those “lands of nocturnal din. “the Father of Ancients. of light and darkness. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light.
but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. This poem.]” . In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. let us make the sign. again three times. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. [1775–1802]). Beatrix.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. to “tender metal partners in marriage.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell.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. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. [Dear child. you speak the truth. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. and his Hymns to the Night. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. by the grace of inner vision. trois vois—le signe. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. at its end. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. je te touche le front.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good.” replies Beatrix. “Master. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. innocents! [The parents sleep there. between the lightworld and the darkworld. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. 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. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. but refers to an inner alchemy. is especially of interest to us here. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. tendres métaux époux. et pour nos trois jours à venir.” is unquestionably alchemical. le signe! [seven times for the past. and clothed with the sun. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. I touch your brow. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. Qu’ils sont beaux. tender metal partners in marriage. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. Thus the canticle. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. and since we have now known one another seven years. and for our three days to come. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry.
woman. The adept watches. tu te délivres. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. “I believe it is. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. and “Lumière de l’or. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. charitée. partaking rather of a heightened.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. Beatrix. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. [It is life liberated.]”21 It is. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. The Master forgives me. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. is reborn!” Thus once again. he comes back to life.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. any more than are those of the adept. white and pale blue.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. Beatrice. “I see only one. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. and to its incantory language. The woman in the poem. leaden and lachrymal.” sinks to the depths. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. [Light of gold.” while the “oil of blind corruption. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. of course. And in the conclusion of the poem. He opens his eyes and is reborn. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. [My chains of constellations are broken. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. I tell you. you liberate yourself. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. The alchemical . yellow. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. but the adept replies. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes.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. and black. charity. 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.
in other words. a light appears. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull.: initiate]. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. as unemotional as nature. . perfectly awake. rests in a horizontal position.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. The incantory. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean.” a “faithful and pious narrative.” and that “In the author’s mind.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. by Milosz. or rather. is also to participate in it. 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. At the same instant. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. after all. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). then? Undoubtedly. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. the large cloud vanishes. by a metallic red-hot egg. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. 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. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. in what it reveals. one senses vast expanses around one. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. oneself. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem.” The line is the fourth verse.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone.
Such experience is of the truly situated. And authentic literature. just as he ignores and despises that world. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. scientifically. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. Milosz . though including many great poets. moving up a little. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. yet his erudition. becomes rounder. one may even say.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. He insists that in order to understand.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. its brutal mass wars. and in this there is a kind of reversal.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. 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. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. he is among the most erudite of poets. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. thereafter. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence.23 There is still more. referring to the reader as “my son. 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. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. It is perhaps useful. that. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. because it springs from this archetypal reality. its secular hedonism and materialism. stands still. Without question. we must bow down. on which it alights like a crown. at this point. meaning the archetypal realm.
we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places.”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. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. Martinez de Pasqually. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.” 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. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. Plato. sought in them peace of spirit. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme.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.” and . passing through the Pre-Socratics. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. alias René Descartes.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. Claude de Saint Martin. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. the School of Alexandria. Eugène Ledrain. from Egypt up to today.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini.” Milosz continued. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity.” 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. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. the mystical eighteenth century. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. Swedenborg. [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.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. Swedenborg. 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.
the universal regent of faith. R. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. my son. 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. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. and books. Here. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. it is not books that we are waiting for.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. as early as 1919. Joseph de Maistre. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. wrote for his poetry. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. Milosz held.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. inside the books of life and of knowledge. 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 . the visionary poet. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. in 1938.” which are far more extensive than anything T.” in fact. science. the books open themselves to him.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. . and art. Eliot. for instance. Germany. if we may coin a word. S. and the true poet. . Milosz tells of his visionary experience. King of the Unified World. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. Hiram. In his “Poem of the Arcana. . opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. Le Forestier. and Savoy. King of the unified world. 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. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow.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. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. Under the heading “Hiram. in short. 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. words. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry.
“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. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel.” 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. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. He writes that “Today. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. who announced a coming millennium. relatively not distant.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. like spirit and matter.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. like all the continents and all the states of this world. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one.” Here. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. aspire to holy unification. especially the dream of a world utopia. he brings in the theme that. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons.’ announce their impending appearance. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. alias René Descartes. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel.”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.”32 Here. Indeed. as we have seen.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. Religion and science.
however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. with a white collar. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale).”39 These dreams of universality. Milosz wrote. The Master alone will wear a red cap.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. but explicitly Christian. the “science of the divine.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. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. de Lubicz. being the Christ-figure. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. not to say grandiosity. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. moral or social. in his work as in his private life. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. of course. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. among them its ritual dress. sought the widest possible range. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. For us. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. the other members being his apostles.” And in his little esoteric group. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). however. . and scientific fusion. as we have seen. I am the enemy of exteriorization. for instance. and that he deliberately. of political. Our group will have no more than twelve members. author of The Magus. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. and the arts via religion. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. the sciences.”38 Such a group. in his letter to James Chauvet. In his work.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. religious. And there are numerous other such examples. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones.
D. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. the poet H. Indeed. and Milosz. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. S. C. D. the Tarot. and essays. a relatively obscure figure. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. little studied in academe. numerology. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. and Kathleen Raine.’s life and interests.. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. However. D.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. Charles Williams. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. but also for the universality of his aims. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. There are.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. D. today. but toward the future. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. H. That H. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son.’s poetry. and a new golden age. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. novels. D. magic. 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. Like Prospero in his final speech. Lewis. Indeed. which outlines the intertwining of H. Although we here will take our leave of them. psychic insights or visions. we .— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. Rosicrucianism. Here. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. through his writing. In these efforts. D. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). astrology. not toward the present. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. D. of course. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H.
I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. But when we begin to look at H.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. “The Thistle and the Serpent.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. however. D. and on the other Margaret Fuller. D. D.”41 Although the major works by H. In his introduction to H. by recognizing that H. Woman in the Nineteenth Century.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. like H. Margaret Fuller. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). astrology. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. Notes is a very unusual work. Likewise. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson.’s life it is repeated a number of times. D.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. D. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. In Esoteric Origins. explicitly esoteric book.. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. overmind. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. was fascinated by numerology. D. For it seems clear from her poetry.’s early. D. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. D. D. D. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own.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. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. D. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). We should begin. H.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. as many critics have observed. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. save that in H. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. a cap of consciousness . I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head.. for H. mind. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness.
D. . second is the life of the intellect. engage in a union of love and intellect. transparent. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. a musician. syncretic . or awakening into the overmind. I visualise it just as well. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. 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. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child.”43 H. almost like two lenses. except through the intellect.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . As we read on through Notes. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. perceive separately. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. which is possible for all. She places gnosis.’s work has feminist implications. . now. She does write about a “vision of the womb. D. Into that over-mind. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. Without doubt. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. a nonsectarian. H. jelly-fish.42 H. H. affecting a little my eyes . . She writes that to be a true artist. Whatever else we may make of it. D. . H. yet make one picture. 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. is a gnostic with a small g. as primary to the true artist.” The minds of the lovers unite. and third is the awakening into the overmind. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. contained in a defininte space. It is like a closed sea-plant. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. or anemone.’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. one must. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. The two work separately. my forehead. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. indeed.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. fluid yet with definite body. D. a musician. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. D. That overmind seems a cap.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. like water. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality.
” and of her “companions / in this mystery. She writes “dare. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. In Notes on Thought and Vision. D. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. D.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. as these entities are “healers. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. / oneness lost. boasting. D.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H.”48 All of this suggests that there is . / jottings of psychic numerical equations. seek. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. madness. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. pitiful reticence. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. dare more. D. too. unlocked.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton.” She writes.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.47 In M.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances.” In the next section.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . H. helpers / of the One.” H. over-confidence.” And the section ends with “illusion.”45 “Amen. Amen.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall.” “arrogance. is a false path. Here. devour. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision.” “Tribute to the Angels. In this respect. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. seek further. / it unlocks secret doors. the overmind being above it. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. D. she holds.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. for instance. / here is the alchemist’s key. spell. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. prayer” for healing. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. .” who “know each other / by secret symbols.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. was lost in sea-depth. / companions / of the flame. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra.” H.” here. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall.” mind “floundered. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. E. . These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. D. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. reversion of old values. this. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. of the “alchemist’s secret. / born of one mother. All-father. and H. As a number of scholars have demonstrated.” we “nameless initiates. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall.
/ lead us back to the one-truth. this has been proved heretical. The next work in H.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past. D. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. H.”49 Thus.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. but this.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. The words themselves may resemble boxes. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. . devoid of life. H. D. conditioned to hatch butterflies . with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb.” “candle and script and bell.” through painting or writing. symbols of Psyche reborn. / re-vivify the eternal verity. this passage suggests the complexity.” whose “province is thought. she is calling herself to a sacred task. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. too little affirmation. / inventive. D. D. then writes: We have had too much consecration. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. . D. H. too much. this.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path.”50 Here H. too little: I know. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. cryptograms. continues. but also those who come after her. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide.” . D. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. illuminate what came after. they are anagrams. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered.’s invocation of Hermes. / in the light of what went before. artful and curious. little boxes. I feel the meaning that words hide.” “invoke the true-magic. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. “patron of alchemists. In a well-known passage.
the poet must “melt down and integrate. after all.” but re-awakened. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. how is it you come so near. H.52 These lines reveal many layers. recreated by the poet. it was an ordinary tree.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. D.” One must “reinvoke. we entered a house through a wall. indivisible Spirit. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible.” 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. I testify.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). is attempting in her poetry here. was writing these poems. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. the conditions under which.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. reinvoked in a new form. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. and so too by implication can we be. like a ghost. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. H. D. D. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. we saw the tree flowering. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. saw. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . the shattered glass of the past. in an old garden-square. John. D. H. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. in the high-altar of a ruined building. so too can the poet be.
/ casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. In it.” This experience “was vision. nothing whatever. In H. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. / . And this experience is gnosis. it is happening everywhere. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. / the darkness of ignorance. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. Hence H. music could do nothing with it. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. and Trilogy in particular. This experience. / it was a sign. the divine feminine. . the flowering of the wood. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. . what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression.’s “Tribute to the Angels. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. D. D.’s vision.’s poetry in general. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. symbol of Hermes. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. the next section is very important. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. 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. is a gnosis of the word.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. / it was the Holy Ghost—. conveyed through the poetry. D. alluded to.’s poetry. In this context. and even more overtly. D. D.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. D. H. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature).” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. with Saint Michael. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. H.
D.” she of the Bona dea. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. D. for H. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. who is also redeemed. and 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. Sophianic spirituality was in H. They are not. D.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. She who has been seen “the world over.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. D. Rather. to her astonishment. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. whether it is con- . right into the final poem. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate.” 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.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. was a baptized Moravian.” And She is also “Psyche. the scribe.’s own heritage.’s Trilogy. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. and that.” “Santa Sophia. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. and the thief.. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. D. the thief. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. / out of the cocoon. D. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. as we will see in more detail shortly. the butterfly. in the context of the three poems together. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. Hermes is the patron of the artist. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom.” “she carried a book. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. the writer. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift.” H.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. And She is “Holy Wisdom. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. brought into paradise with Christ. under her “drift of veils.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. the Bible. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. / who did not forego our heritage” .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. D. D. allied to Mercury also.” This refrain. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems.”56 Sophia herself appears to H.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. obviously.
It is not surprising. D. as in the original. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. The Gift. D. S. D. Hermes and Christ. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. however. of mysticism.” with the experience of Christ. To understand this mysticism more fully. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought.” all are interwoven here.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. 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. H. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is.’s own notes. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. B. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. H. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. In her poetry. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . Likewise. 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. complete with H.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. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. we must turn to The Gift. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. fear. H. What is more. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. Eliot and W. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. Eve and Mary. H. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. D. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. that until 1998. D. I suppose.
In other words.” or Jedediah Weiss. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. in her notes. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. We can see the extent and depth of H. D. in the middle of the eighteenth century. 1909).” of the “Arcana. “Old Father Weiss. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. and he was born in Bethlehem. make clear this distinction. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. Linde. H. H. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. especially those now housed at Yale University. was herself a baptized Moravian.”58 About such accusations. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. 1753). shaping the way that she intended it to be read. had done her research. Knapton. Rimius. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. 1755). was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. Pennsylvania. H. D.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. 1753). George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. . but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. Rimius’s works. H. D. D. itself. Mysticism. 1794). D. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. 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. Robinson. cited by H. Pennsylvania. in . her grandmother’s father. In toto. it was in fact in her blood. D. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. D. & P. 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. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. D. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . and weave together genealogical and historical materials. . though I must confess.
he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead.. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. The Moravian Church. D. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. and Son. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. but also of the older poet H. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. to initiate the reader. conventionally the church. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . D. it does exist. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. there was no hint of this exoticism. D. Mother. 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. in short. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. We were a small community.” She goes on: . respected and highly respectable.”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. into The Gift. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. . . Hilda. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. “you just stumble on it. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. D. referring to Father. and its doctrines as representing a pure.” H. writes. The novel.. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. 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.
Egyptian . Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. That is how it is. Hilda surmises. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. it is like that little flower that Mrs. in some aspects of the story. this is the game I play. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. A word opens a door .” The first is when Mamalie. Williams called a primula. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. Hilda’s grandmother. the word stops. 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. but Hilda (and along with her. . “Christian had left the Secret with me. Island of Wonders. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. men play a greater role than women. 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 even here in her narrative. . “The Secret. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. A word opens a door. . In chapter 5 of The Gift. . we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. But really “live” it. These spiritual mysteries are not. but there are no bees in it now. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. as some scholars seem to think. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. I mean. .” she told Hilda. that is why it is so quiet. it is what the novel does for H. D. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. Rather. indeed.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. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. I mean. . Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. But there is more. cut on a wall at Karnak. considerably more of this theme to unpack. later learning it means Island of Wounds). Then am I for a moment . the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. The word is like a bee-hive. The other bees have gone. these are the keys. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase.
said Mamalie. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. the answer given by the Spirits. had a name for. was to decide the future of the whole country . in particular the Shawnee. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. is not Europe but North America. According to Mamalie. The most important scene for this gnostic drama.” “the laughter of leaves. but all of them. though. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. altogether. indeed. laughing all the time. D. Pyrlaeus. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. but this was untrue. This rapport is historically verifiable. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. She and her . to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. . and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. though. .62 Like the Templars.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. Hebrew.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. Mamalie continues. of snow swirling. bore the names of Cammerhof.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. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. done in their picture-writing. it was the laughter of the water. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie.” not just Minne-ha-ha.” This scroll. of wind. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. kept in a birch-bark case. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. “like scales running up and down.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations.63 In The Gift. Greek. this laughter that ran over us. so that “It was laughing. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates.’s. it is not a confabulation of H.
we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War.” 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.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. And yet in the very final passages. H. . the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. who was to die at twenty-five. or Wounded Island. having “burnt it up. and then. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. raining down terror from the skies.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. decoded it and she played it. Mamalie. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. those hiding in the attic burned alive. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. called “New Gnadenhütten. even refers to the American David Williamson. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. said in her fragmented narrative. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. At the novel’s conclusion. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. in an even more attenuated form. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. 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. so much so that she never played music again. In her notes. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. In 1755. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. domination.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. Christian Seidel. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. The Gift.”69 The two worlds have become one. 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.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. And in a subsequent event. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. D. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination.” as “Aryan. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. Wunden Eiland.
her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. there. her work suggests that past.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. for instance. the more deeply one looks into her works. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. H. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. and future continually intermingle. not merely as decorations. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. H. D. . past and present. In her poetry and fiction. one of the original Moravian initiates. D. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. Likewise.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul.’s English present. singing of the Wounds. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. But above all. H. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. present. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. 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. both poetic and fictional. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. but as integral to her work.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. D. and out of which all great work is generated. Her interest in spiritualism. D. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. D. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. H.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. Indeed.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. As we have seen. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. as well as of timelessness and time. D. In her profoundly ambitious works.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. H.V.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. In this context. Among major twentiethcentury authors.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun.
through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. Elizabeth recalls him to her. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. H. dynastic Egypt. early seventeenth-century England. outlined in entirety. legendary Provence. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. D. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. although: I hardly knew my Lord. yes. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. but it was only in her later work that we see it. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. true we had met in sudden frenzy. and its implications. as history tells us. and contemporary London. We cannot conclude without reference to H. After his death. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. The Lucifer-Lilith. D. Mystery and a portent. Vale Ave. the Light-bringer. H. late Rome.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. has the same root derivation as Seraph. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. through her fiction and through her poetry. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. Lilith. through time—specifically.71 . meeting and parting. may be Angel or Devil. but at the same time. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. whom we invoke as Lucifer. parted in the dark.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. D. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. as Adam. to be sure. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. in his pre-Eve manifestation.
” and again through it “I had the answer. / infinity portrayed in simple things. Here. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. the “springs gone under the hill. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. 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. here again “the words laugh. Her poetry and her prose. 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. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. . just as it dwells in the realm of dreams.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams.’s lifetime of work.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. “the Mystery. as in poetry. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . 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. taken in toto. the Writing.” 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.” the holy presences withdraw. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. and the Scroll. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. The dead are living still.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. Of course. . But my .” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. I would like to explore not the art of magic. D. D.” the mysteries of the holy well. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency.” 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. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible.
” replies Ransom. Here. seems reasonable enough in theory.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. fay or mortal. R.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. as one might imagine. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. R. Tolkien. they will unmake all Middle Earth. saying “I have become a bridge. “That is why they will work only through a man.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. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. the “true powers of Heaven. and so forth.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. Lewis. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth).” “Sir.” But later in the same essay. here.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. yes. things are not nearly so clear cut. J. or pretends to produce.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. and Charles Williams). or Mercury. invokes the Oyéresu. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. Let us take an example. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. 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. R. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry.” “Their naked power. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. C. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. S. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. J. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. domination of things and wills. His main character. Viritrilbia. S. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. “one who by his own will once opened it. its desire is power in this world. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. R. and the descrip- .” says Ransom.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. C. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. John Ransom.” which might best be translated as “magic. or Venus. “The Descent of the Gods. Magic produces. when we turn to actual works. it remains distinct from the other two. an alteration in the Primary World. it is not an art but a technique.
”79 After Mercury arrives Venus.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. They experience “needle-pointed desires.” “He would have known sensuously. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. . They could not bear that it should continue. They were blinded. . deafened.”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. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. 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 . full of wordplay and puns and metaphors.” the narrator tells us. bright and ruthless. outspeeding light: it was Charity . They thought it would burn their bones. sticky gums . A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. . where the invocation has its center. and the Blue Room. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. calling down the powers. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. . lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. They could not bear that it should end. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. were it possible. scorched. In this chapter. 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. . The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. here. brisk merriments. sharp. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. in which none other than the ancient . In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. unmitigated. . In the beginning of the chapter. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. 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. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. until his outraged senses forsook him. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. . ready to kill. .”80 It is not really possible. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. sweet-scented and full of desire.
” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. of course. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. Therefore . and the Director (Dr. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. The invocation takes place.”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. one with ordinary people. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St.” the seventeenth chapter. About Williams’s novels. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. in a “secondary world” of fiction. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. In so doing. and by its end. “Obviously it was high time she went in. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. Anne’s. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. and one with Merlin and Ransom). One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. she sees that clothes are piled inside. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. In other words. though one could easily imagine it so. 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. 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. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams.
]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. in general. 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. they unveil the power of archetypes and. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. in fact. . for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. It was not written for its entertainment value. for in the act of reading. not find it very entertaining. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. By doing so.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. Who and what is Lilith. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. almost cathartic effect. and how therefore the reader is in . we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. and her observations are revealing. In effect they are initiations. [Emphasis added. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in.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. 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. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. 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. I wrote it. for instance. For that. I have put a great deal into it. On the other hand. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. I am afraid. [Emphasis added. to find out what it was about. one is also encountering new realms of existence. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. . they reveal forms of necromancy. and decidedly corrupt ones.
badly lit and ill-tended room. In the novel’s seventh chapter. who is Moloch. the side She turns away from earth. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. 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. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. 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. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. The magic worked. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. It does not matter to me what it is called. Fortune’s novel.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. In some respects. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. untidy. and imagined myself speaking to him. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. but Fortune was.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. putting my cards on the table. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. not surprisingly. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. and I seemed to be in a strange room. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. appears clearly in her novels. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. which is the dark side of the Moon. that is to say. magicians call it magic. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. for it is effectual. She gave rise to the character Lilith. after all. I made the astral projection by the usual method. like all of her . I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. a shabby.
based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. Holmes. As a character.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction.” 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. Rhodes. . set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. Rhodes. a fellow named Fouldes. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. . “for to me they had suddenly become alive. for I was one with them . 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. Thus Rhodes. like Taverner. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. 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. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. I was no longer alone.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. Taverner. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. at the end of the story. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. “in all things there was a profound difference. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé.”85 And so the book concludes. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. but I shared in their life. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. The Secrets of Dr. After his entry into the Unseen. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. was consummately the logician. to “enter the Unseen. for. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. Not only were they alive. a young woman named Ursula . Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. one will recall. and many others.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. Marius. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. I had passed over into the Unseen. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. but perhaps most interestingly.
. there are also depraved black magicians. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. . who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). . became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. In That Hideous Strength. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. and her half-brother. an experienced magician. they are without morality. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. pure selfishness. The girl he could do nothing for. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. . and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. like Astley in The Winged Bull. banked and double-banked. ‘Well. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. Frost and Wither are without mercy. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . but then Murchison. and in another moment the room was empty .’ ‘Yes. broke and starred like a smashed mirror.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. cold and merciless. Then. ‘so that’s that. Of the two books. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. and. breaking the embarrassing silence. but also logically. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other.’ replied Murchison. The strange. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. ‘That is very much that. He was experienced in dealing with such things. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head.’ Brangwyn concluded. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away.’ said Brangwyn. suddenly. . a bear of a man. they were getting it in the neck. Yet paradoxically. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. among them men named Frost and Wither. dropping into a chair as if exhausted.
thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. or with the help of an initatory. helped by appropriate texts. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. Taverner. 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. Whether or not a disciple has a master. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings.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. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. powers both good and evil. 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. at the end of The Secrets of Dr.90 .89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. but that also go beyond seeing into nature.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. in this kind of fiction. But Charles Williams and even C. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. . initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. either alone. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). There is. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. Lewis. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. and thanks to that. experience of magic. In all of the fiction we are considering here.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. and Fortune. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. S. Williams. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. .
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. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. active imagination is essential. since in the fiction we have been discussing. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.” and thus to written works like novels.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. in literary form. Third. Indeed. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. 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. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word.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. 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. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. thoroughly real. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. if we may so put it. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. 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. . which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. then. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. 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. In fact. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. Williams. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. Second.” What conclusions can we draw. Such a tension corresponds. Finally.
Collins was a gifted aphorist. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. which is why I have chosen to study them together. but also in Böhmean theosophy. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). but with the publication of this book. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. held in London’s Tate Gallery. Thus. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. higher aspects of nature and humanity. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works.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. indirectly or directly. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. there remain fundamental differences. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. in the sense of Rilke. 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. 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. transcendent and perhaps. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany.. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. an important and genuinely original British painter. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. As we have already seen. Still. angelic realm. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. Theosophic illustrations in particular. E. and his writings reveal in detail his . and that like his contemporary poet. 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. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal.
even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. I know of your existence.” 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.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. 1945. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. But you exist. I long for my kingdom. of his solitary walks in the countryside. and my life with you.” or again. and I know nothing. of all that which desires to give. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. I remember you. Denies the artist. to come to fruition. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. Our time denies. denies all who have inward fruit. we are all exiles. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. A winter of the spirit is over all society. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. for Collins. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. In “Hymn of Life. Totnes. I long for my race. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. [14 January. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . But here I wander.” Ordinary life in the natural world. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. is imbued always with spiritual significance. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. the contemplative.95 In 1965. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. the human being. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works.’ must make intellectual connections individually. A frustration of all that which is growing. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. for he must ‘leap the gaps. 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.
and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge.97 Works of art. This is the same thing actually. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. It can only be known by inner nuance.] 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. . and the making of money. but only by rapport with those worlds. . the meaning. For like answers to like and creates actualization . whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. The value of the artist is not to decorate.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. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. by measurement or analysis. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. awaken this inner rapport in us. . and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. by description. 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[. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. rapport. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. 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. in Collins’s view.
rocks. the unveiling of the atom. we have no canonic culture of our own. widened. and what is more.” In his final remarks. the opening of man’s inner nature. We are all apt to fall asleep. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. spiritu- . it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. we have communion with it[. .98 The work of art. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. . with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. the elements. canonical religions and ritual. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. the answer comes back to us from within them.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. in a “time of the apocalypse. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality.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[. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. in Collins’s view.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. he writes. canonic language. in Collins’s view. religious. it becomes qualitative.’ In other words. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. and transmuted. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. his inner world. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. trees. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. In the past. and that is the eye of the heart. of mere desires. ‘Everything that lives is holy.” 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. But there is something else that has to be opened. We live.
make it bleed. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. landscape is transformed as well. not afraid to wound the heart. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. In many of his later paintings. hieratic quality. too. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. Many of these images have a strange. Often. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. an active support. a union of figure. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual.” 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. the one with the sword. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. 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. 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. Here. dreamlike. and the other with the light. and vibrant color. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. but that is uplifting and paradisal. to the left the orb of the sun. in “The Invocation. by patterns on the limbs and torso. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. the figures’ eyes are opened. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. landscape. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. To gaze at this painting is to . to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. her head bent back and contemplative. like “Angels” (1948). revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). around them a halo of golden-yellow light. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. such as “The Invocation” (1944). in its hand a staff topped by an orb. as in many of his visionary paintings. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate.
to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. as in the works of Milosz and H. . that like Milosz. and poems that illuminate his paintings. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. Poems. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. In this respect. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. But Collins offers these through visual images. but central. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. And it is also clear. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. a world between us and it. In all of these works. Divine Reality. D. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. D. he offers through his paintings. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. so that God becomes a table. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. he is like very few other painters. not least because his work includes not only images. In another book. in Collins’s view. we then have ‘sacred space.’ sacred images. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). his drawings. Indeed. H. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. by which we make contact with reality through images .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. aphorisms. Meditations. Collins wrote in this book.. but also essays. chair. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. and indeed. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. like an electrical transformer. Lost paradise and . one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. . Here.. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. or altar. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience.
and the via negativa. and awakening gnosis. science. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. It is. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. First. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. or way of affirmation. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. Thus our third point: that . or mere entertainment. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. as a means of transmitting knowledge. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. these are the themes of these great artists. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. For in our overview of Western esotericism. or way of negation. for instance. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. Strictly speaking. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. the way of images and forms and transformations. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. as Dionysius himself points out. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. but rather. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. although they may contain an element of play. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. and the arts in written form. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. of course.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. to the conjunction of spirituality. what we find is in fact the via negativa. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins.
be it Rosicrucian or alchemical.’ quantifiable knowledge. And Western esoteric literature. history. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. sometimes called by Böhme the . chemistry. Rather. on the other hand. the cosmos. 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. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. ‘third element. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation.’ the divine. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. psychology. there is only the division between self and other. In modern education. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. or Symbols. and there is sheer transcendence. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. But in Western esoteric traditions. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. Here is the essential division between a modern. Ideas. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. D. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. and so on. plant extracts.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. the divine. In a modern worldview. between humanity and the cosmos. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. and the divine. hidden. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. between the human and natural realms. geology.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. sociology. works only by reference to this third element. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. Western esoteric traditions.
One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. Thus the artist. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. by definition a ‘seer. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. This archetypal realm. cosmology. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. a mythologist. often seen as androgynous. theosophy. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. In brief. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. In all of these traditions. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. The artist. in this worldview. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. for all three of these poets. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. and by others the Nothing. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. a divine mathematics. and literary expression. and his fall from paradise. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. we find a divine art and a divine science.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. For the purpose of such literature is. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. the absolute unity of subject and object. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. Adam. an artist. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. a theologian.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. first. or Fullness. The aim of the esoteric . but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. and a chemist. in order to create. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. alchemy. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. Rosicrucianism. is in fact prophetic. but nothing. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. or any of the other major esoteric currents. biology. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. meaning by that not absence. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats.
. pansophic.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. almost always denoting divinity. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. for instance. an alchemist. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. 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. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism.’”102 Likewise. the language of creation itself. or a pansoph. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. whether a Kabbalist. contains some secret of wisdom. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. a theosopher. and notarikon. In this perspective. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. where it arguably sparked the entire . the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . Rosicrucian. and Masonic illustrations. 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 a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. which is to say. Hence. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. even from a single letter. temurah. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. magical. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. . Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. author of The Magus. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. theosophic.
. 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. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. 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. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. generally speaking .” or the “Book of Revelation. when surveying the various esoteric currents. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians.’ and this is not necessarily so. certainly it may be the Christian . They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. and especially of written language and of the book. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism.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. magic. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. consequently.104 Obviously. theosophy. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. following the various currents through Kabbalism. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. it may be the “Book of Nature. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. influenced much of modern Russian literature. Futurism. Social Realism. . 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. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. and Masonry. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.” or the “Book of Life”. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history.
but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. and what is more. for instance. Islam. or in Buddhism. much less in Christianity specifically. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. or masters. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. In Hinduism or Buddhism. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. which indeed still finds them audiences today. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. and Geber. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. Indeed. However. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. or nonexistent. gurus. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. and indeed even farther back. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. 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. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. interrupted. Even in the case of alchemy. where the tradition . But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. but rather relied upon the written word. Given our overview. 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. Hermes. and so on back into antiquity. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. 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.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 seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. 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.
who. By contrast. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. One thinks here. initiatory. when we look at the writing of Milosz. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. Such a view of the written word is. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. may think of his poetry. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. naturally. Let us take another example. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. for in all cases. often strikingly beautiful. Milosz. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. of Abraham Abulafia.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. Christian theosophic literature. Indeed. and in particular at its strange. but who rather offered the world only written works. I believe. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. hieratic. dreamlike language and imagery. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. of course. These illustrations. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. are not simply decorations. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. have been adorned with copious illustrations. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. That is to say.’ or ‘data’. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. V Milosz. particularly the works of Böhme. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. Somehow. in addressing this far-off “son. In modern parlance. to some future initiate in a far century.’ a means of conveying ‘information. 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. Such evocation is. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. whatever one . then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. but .” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. And one recalls the Rosicrucians.
Rather. theosophic.” or Wisdom. Taken together.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. This metaphor—of sowing. that is. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. pansophic. reaping. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. What is more. In my view. in other words. so there is no need here to repeat myself. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. the lightworld of paradise. For instance. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. the dark-world of hell. through the turbulence of earthly life. for instance. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. Obviously. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. and over time those seeds can take root. by gazing at such an image. does have an initiatic function—that is. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. Such an illustration. In this way.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. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. and flower in the reader too.106 To explain this phenomenon. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. which refers to . it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. grow. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. marked also “Sophia. it is more immediate and visceral. I use the term ahistorical continuity. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. tending. represented by a cross.
But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. or a biology textbook.’ 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. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. and are in earnest. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. . you truly will know its worth. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. Perhaps. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. and who have a desire to begin. Thus. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . instead. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition.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. the daily news. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. leave untouched the precious Names of God . without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. If. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. 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. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. Such a reader joins with the author. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. After all. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. this function must be a change in consciousness. Naturally. as I am suggesting. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. for example. if you wish to use this little book aright. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. 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. . Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. Here. one might even say impossible. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged.
The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. and become not its own possession. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. . In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. this objectifying delusion.” “Be rightly warned. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. Then that thing. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. not by merely mouthing the words. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. a prayer for the evening.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. a prayer for noon. 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.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. which it sees as divine.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. judgemental consciousness.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. and for when one rises. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. but the “instrument of God. and a prayer before sleep. a prayer for one’s daily work.” If on the one hand. in his “Warning to the Reader. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. he tells us. the source from which they emerge. and so on for the entire week. and experience the divine directly. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. a prayer for washing and dressing. one automatically is caught in delusion. or has knowledge-of.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. but. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. to become a channel for the divine current. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation.” or objectified realm.”107 Or again.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. it walks in its own delusion. and second.
in other words. we have the point of origin. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. 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. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. although there are divisions between archetypes. the yes and the no. as are nature and humanity. where. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. at the far limit of what we can express in language. then language must reflect this division. love and wrath. in the archetypal realm there is . but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. Here we are. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. in Western esotericism generally. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. Indeed. or the divine eye that sees itself. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. there is no sense of separation between self and other. conversely. between the divine and the natural. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. of course. For language is in its innermost nature divine. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. the light and the dark. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. or subject and object. There emerges a spacious or open quality. but of the cosmos itself. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. the origin not only of language. the self in one sense continues to exist.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. In other words. or perceiver and what is perceived. just as. as we have seen. divine in its origin. in that there remains an observer. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. or divided from the divine. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. Above. There is simply awareness. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary.
but never owned. and objectified worldview. 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. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. in modern literary theory or theories of language. and the participatory. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. transformative. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. But by the late twentieth century. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. Language. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. The massive machine of the modern technological. secular. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. 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. secular. During this . 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. nature. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. suppression. for after all. Undoubtedly. or separation into self and other. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. 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. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. in these esoteric traditions. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. and the divine. the divine is perforce unmentionable. or manifest more indirectly in literature. For Western esotericism. and so forth. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. which is rife with the language of objectification. By contrast.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership.
one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. To this we now turn.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. Buddhism. If so. which is to say. But to begin to explore this new. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. of awakening latent. and the arts. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. profound connections between humanity. religion. nature. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. the Lullian art. magic or theosophy. in particular. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. in theosophic works. and the divine. scientific or otherwise. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. inner territory. after all that we have surveyed. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. L I T E R AT U R E . to name only a few. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. at least for some. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . but also for society itself. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. A R T. As we have seen throughout this study. too. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. psychology. troubadours and chivalry. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. 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. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. including elements of the sciences.
1867–1935). he tells us. E. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. ascends to “that high state where. and the divine. 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. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. A. In his book Song and Its Fountains. . (George William Russell. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. E. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. E. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. . . he simply began to murmur line after line. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. to turn to a poet. as we have seen. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. 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 . joys. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. and indeed. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. But A. Naturally.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. nature. It may be of use. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. Indeed.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. E. rejoicings. A. In this esoteric view of literature. found throughout Western history. at this juncture. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. to write presupposes already having seen. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. a friend of Yeats. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. beyond history.”111 Unconscious of creation. not the life of shadows. In this view. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. images. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. but of reality. A. as the seers tell us. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. The poet’s psyche. To use Plato’s metaphor. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here.
the creation of poetry in A. and song.”113 This movement of consciousness A. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. E. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. E. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. it draws nigh to its own divine root.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision.” he wrote. the poet. A.”117 For this reason.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets.” Thus. E.”115 He understood something of the psyche. and after that images. but all was a motion in deep being. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. but of the universal spirit he understood little. There was neither sight nor sound. E. Yeats. analyzes the movement of consciousness. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. A. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. E. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. E. looks upon the poet as a prophet. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. Yet A. though too often they have not kept faith . A. perhaps surprisingly. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. was later translated into words.” he wrote. B. A. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. 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.”116 Still. gone inward into itself. later discussed with W. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. E. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. “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. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. recognized his limits. “I have. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. even if unaware of precisely how or why.”114 A far exile from that glory. from a descent after an ascent.
And A. A. when it becomes truly self-conscious.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. or division into self and other. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. . we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. E. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. Thomas Bromley. the further we come out of the animal Nature. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. they come “trailing clouds of glory. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. . for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible .”121 These insights of A. Throughout our investigations. E. 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 which were real and which revealed more of themselves in that profundity of being than if they had met and spoken day by day. for instance. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. as did the sybils of old. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. the view of literary creation that A. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. and they wove into drama or fiction. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. 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. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. E. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650).” The psyche. But at times they still receive the oracles. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. . E. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. In essence. may. without knowing it. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. in that solitude we may meet multitude. characters they had never met in life. when we seem most alone. In Christian theosophy.
absorbed completely in a book. In Bromley’s case. at least temporarily. there also is participation in what is observed. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. Of course. which no earthly Distance can hinder. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. for instance. and taken on a kind of life of its own. more powerful. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. where. like theater. and between the models that they represent. or drama. although there is still an observer and what is observed. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. In this realm. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. One becomes what one sees. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. One experiences great bliss. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. irrespective of time or distance—and A.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. E.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. a novel. But nonetheless. in A. symbols. say. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. on the other a visionary poet. as if by happenstance. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. and so requires our sympathetic participation. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. by A. Likewise. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. and the world is shot through with light. and we must. and experiences. the poet is more like a receiver. We are carried along on the words of the author. E. E. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. Reading. which later emerge in poetry. or of Captain Ahab. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. the book or work has been separated from its writer. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. In the first case. in the latter case. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. as if we knew them as neighbors. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. in between both author and reader. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. events. fiction. and to one another in the Internal.’s case. passive. and nearer both to Heaven. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. the author also is not directly present.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. For who.
Perhaps. of course. habitual self is gone. And indeed. . and one has entered a new world. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. magic is real. playing for keeps.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. and books. but eventually puts the book down. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. in alchemical work. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. symbolizes eternal conditions. fiction. we might reverse the terms. 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. and in Kabbalistic practice. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. 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. and one enters into the new birth. Of course. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. 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. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. whereas the esotericist is. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. 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. the visions of the theosophers are real. drama. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. for example. writing. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. presumably. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. The difference. one turns away from the painting. By contrast. existing in a supraphysical dimension. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. essays. or to have it stricken. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. For when a reader engages in a literary work. Ordinary. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. We see this in the Book of Revelation. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. our authors tell us.
Jacob Böhme. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. lives on. the Kabbalist. but there is much more to be done. Abraham Abulafia. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. their works like second nature. the gnostic. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. the literary work. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. Ramon Lull. Johannes Tauler.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. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. Jane Leade. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. the alchemist. and may even connect profoundly with each other. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. R. If a primary aim of the alchemist. John Pordage. Thomas Bromley. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. gnostics. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. Meister Eckhart. the Kabbalist. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. R. But fundamental questions remain. in the process of creating a fictional world. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. or Kabbalists—by self-election. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. Secret Societies. but what came into existence through him. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. Nicholas . The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. so too is the author. Yet at the same time. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. is to attain paradisal immortality. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. fiction.
and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. but in every case. and indeed even God himself. moreover. Berdyaev tells us.” It may well be. in the . and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. 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). “add it to his own arsenal of power. to in Emerson’s words. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. taken together. 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. to be guided by the author. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. the author is reaching out. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. esoteric or not. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. precedes all being. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. literature. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. 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. and consciousness. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. for as I have discussed elsewhere. 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.124 The Ungrund. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. In being. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature.
And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. of creativity. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. fictional. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. “Creative activity. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. and its expression in human creativity. and therefore of division. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. As Berdyaev points out. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. particularly the arts of literature. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. and especially on the . where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. the artist. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. a different sort of knowledge. “it is an end of this world.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. issues from existential eternity.” he writes. the artist. 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. or to put it another way. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. It is knowledge. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. Nishitani Keiji. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity.” and “is the beginning of a different world.
“unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. self-centered consciousness. .”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . . or “true emptiness. This intensifies our narcissism. one retreats into self even further. or the emptiness of all things. In Nishitani’s work. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. in other words. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. that is. What .”128 True emptiness. Out of this transcendence alone. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. and us from them. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. . and has the effect not of separating.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. Nishitani affirms. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. of course. As we have seen throughout this study. is beyond definition. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. the choices of the will. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . begins where we all are: with our ordinary. Nishitani. or rather in unison. and indeed. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. . This is the field of shunyata. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. egoistic mode of being. As rational or personal beings. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon.” Authentic freedom is.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. The force of destiny is at work here. what is the same thing.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. emerges authentic freedom. or perhaps better still. . “an equality in love. self-identically. While this is our own act. for faced with nihility. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. it is not something we are free to do as we please .” an “absolute openness. .
encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. The Western esoteric traditions. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. Paradoxically. or even linguistic construction. as the sense of self and other diminishes. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. with nature. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. have at their center this mystery of the word.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. including paintings. But in any case.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. so Western esotericism suggests. political. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. anything that can be read or written.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. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. a calling toward what we are meant to be. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. seen as a whole. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. joined together with one another. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. It can lead us. for all their diversity. We read and are read. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. language is indeed divine. write and are written. .
ed.. 1992).msu. 4. mostly by North American scholars.edu ] for articles. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.aseweb.esoteric. including Wouter Hanegraaff. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. ibid. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. See Steven Katz.org. 3. See www. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. For an overview of Western esotericism. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. See Hanegraaff. See Arthur Versluis. 5. See also the journal Esoterica [www. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. Faivre. 1994). 159 .msu. 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. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. a Dutch scholar. 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.Notes INTRODUCTION 1.edu.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. 2. see Antoine Faivre. in this field. the official Web site of the ASE. much of it in French.esoteric. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210.
see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. See ibid. Gnosis and Literature (St. Peers. See Arthur Versluis. pp. 11. Nag Hammadi Library. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. 14. 1975). p. eds. pp. 97. cit. 10–15. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. See Versluis. 51–89. Translation is mine. 13. p. 219–233. 14–21. whether they know it or not. 223. 5. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. See Frederick Goldin. 6. John Pordage. pp. . 1974). 1973). 307. in Arthur Versluis. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. 10. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St.. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. Paul: Grail. 18 ff. pp. 12. p. 2000). Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 2. p. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. 309. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. 2. Sophia. 9. p. Mircea Eliade. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. trs. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. 4. p. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. See Versluis. 3. See. Jean La Fontaine. 1986). 76–106. Ramon Lull. CHAPTER TWO 1..” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. 2000). p.. Dreams. pp. 2000). Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. see also Scholem. CHAPTER ONE 1. 4. Myths.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. 83 ff. 7.. See Faivre. E. 111.. p. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. op. 3. 140. 1965). 1996). Paul: Grail. ed. pp. 151. 1992). 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 5. See Charbonneau. 180. Paul: Paragon House. 8. 145. Paul. See Gershom Scholem.. 1863). for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. Victor Sogen Hori. 1991). (London: Sheldon. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. Paragon House. Nag Hammadi Library. p. 248. 1999). pp. Ibid. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. pp. 37 ff. 1978). pp.
36.205b–206a. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. 25. 101–102.C. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. Origins.80 ff. p.. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. Ibid... 1965). (London: Soncino. 1953) I. p.. Ibid. See Mark Verman. ed.B. II. 66. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. p. Ibid. I. 1983). 59. p. 1984). 29. op. 270. Zohar IV . 278. Bonner. and Françoise Secret. p. in The Zohar. II. 1964). Doctor Illuminatus. 298 ff. I. Vasoli. p. eds. See Pico della Mirandola. 31. 12. 1986). I. Cassirer. 20. Scholem. Ibid.. pp. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. cit. 29. p. 10. Cassirer. 18.351. pp. M. 7. 197. Ibid. 1992). 21. See Moshe Idel.. Dan. 23. II. 49–50. op. Tristan. p. trs. See Scholem. 24. Ibid. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. 16. Ibid. See A. 9. 61.320–323. 38.. 22. 1961). ed. 33. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. op. 8.. IV . Simon. Gershom Scholem.331. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. p. Ibid. Ibid. 19. I. . p... 1987). See Verman. Ibid.. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. C. II. Ibid. ed.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. See Verman. 26. cit. See. A. I. 197. 280.312. Origins. Origins. 30.. 35. 1779). 1969). (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 246... Ibid. (Hildesheim: Olms.325. for instance. Ibid. 17.75. p. 27. 1988). p. 28. 14. Ibid.. see also Scholem. 37.. See J. 34. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. trs. 32.314. 57. p. Joseph Blau.77. et al.. See Arthur Edward Waite.76. Twersky. 1979). 394. Opera omnia. I.. 51. 57. I. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. Ibid. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 11. 1985).. cit.. ed.205b.. see also Moshe Idel. 52. p. p.71. 13. 250.. 15. p. ed.
246. p. Fama. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. ms. I. 260. C.. 50. Confessio. p. 221. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. 43. 52. diss. p. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. a theologian. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. p. Ibid. . Josten. Ibid. 63. See. 67. II. p. table of contents. p. See Frances Yates. 253... 59. Resicrucian Enlightenment.. Ibid.. The Alchemy of Art. . cit.A. p. 1615). Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. Ashmole. Ibid. including two physicists. Fama. Ibid. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. 45. D. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. for background.. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. Confessio.D.. See Versluis. op. 241. Ibid. See also Marsha Schuchard. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. and others. for the reader’s convenience.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. Ibid. and even chart them astrologically. . The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. Ashmole.M. William Huffman. Ibid. 1975).. p. 37. 61. 51. 1971). 252.102–104. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. 1998).. 62. 42. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Hall.O. . Confessio. Theatre of the World. Ibid. 1988). See Versluis.. p. 1966). “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. Fama. p. 257. p. a cosmologist. Yates. 46. for text.M. p. p.P. p. Fama. p. p. 371. 44. 242. Secret Societies. and also written an extensive commentary on it. p. Ibid. 77. 57.77. See Josten. in a group called the Round Table. 60. Ibid. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. 58. 251.O. 53. Confessio. see Donald Dickson. . 1997). 47. 48.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. forthcoming. 1999). Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. 56. H. The following page references are to Yates.681. I. ed. p. 22. 41.. Freemasonry. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. 49.. der gantzen weiten welt . Frances Yates. 220. M. Ibid.. a musician. 1972). ed. 129. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 54. 238. I have translated this work of Pordage. University of Texas at Austin.A. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . (Cassel: Wessel.. 49. See Versluis. (Cassel: Wessel.. 255. Ibid. p. 55. From von Welling. See. 1784). 40...
p. Freemasonry. On Emerson and Hermeticism. (London [Philadelphia]: B. pp. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). 1734). Ibid.” 99–134. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. 10. See also Schuchard. regulations . 1926). 1992).. and Margaret Bailey. Hugh Trevor-Roper. 1985). Religion.. ed. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism.. p. Mazet. 67. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. CHAPTER THREE 1. See Edmond Mazet.. See M. Franklin. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. Faivre. See also Bernard Fay. and Albert Cherél. Sloane. . 7. p. Ibid. 2. 71. . Ibid. See James Anderson. pp. 65. See George David Henderson. the Reformation. p. pp. S. O. Paul: Grail. op. ed. V de L. Ibid. pp. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. see Versluis. 1952). See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. 11. pp. Ibid. p. 6.. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. 1997). 5. citing B. 1948). 2001). Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. Charge I. 66. pp. 256. 70. Revolution and Freemasonry. Brown. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. 4. Ibid. 247–249. 268. 2002). 253. Ibid. p. p. 66–67. M. pp. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. 1997). and Social Change (London: Macmillan. 39. 68. A. 654. 1935). 191. 69. 1967). See Marsha Keith Schuchard. 417. See Dickson. . 240. 409. D. 257–272.. 9. H. (New York: Crossroad. 162–168. see also Max Ernst. p.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. 1992). Ibid. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. M. p.. changes. Milosz. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. p. 170–171.. Warlick. 172–173. 170–171. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. cit.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. 8. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. 414. 110. . “Freemasonry and Esotericism. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. E. 3.
26.. 22. pp. of course. . 8–9. pp. 13.. 19. 178–179. Ibid. . The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 37. 34. see Versluis. ed. p. see Steven Bullock. 174–175.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. 30. 180–181. Ibid. 16. Ibid. 248.. 25. 204–205. p. 38. p. 455. cit. Ibid. H. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. Ibid..” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. Ibid. Friedman writes that “From her [H. 1981). 17. I.. See W. 277. For the poet of the modernist era. 20. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. 36. 158). hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . 27.1 ff. 303. cit. p. 48–52. 23. Ibid. 31. Milosz. Susan Friedman. 1982).. 32. 14. pp. 2001). 33. For a more extensive study.. Ibid.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition... 15. 40. Ibid.. op. Ibid. 469. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. pp. 1985). Milosz. pp. 465. 296. Ibid. 206–207. pp. 39. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 297–298. 41. 1989). pp. Ibid. 28. 224–225. pp. 24. Ibid.. Milosz.. pp. 464. pp. The question. 182–183. p. . is into what did she translate this inner meaning. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered.. cit. 18. 300. pp. 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. 35. Ibid. op.. introduction by Albert Gelpi. p. op. I. 299–300. Ibid. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. p.. trs. p. 21. D. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala..115.. 157–206.’s] perspective. See Versluis. 1994). Ibid. Ibid. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. Ibid. p. 29. 299. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p... p. 1996). See Versluis. pp.. Ibid.. Scott. 210–211. D. 226–227.. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. pp. D. Ibid. Lib. Milosz.
20. 21.. 2001).. 61.” pp. Ibid.. see also. 45. 168. Ibid. p.. D. “Tribute to the Angels. Rimius. 69. 58. 55. See M. Ibid. Ibid. These passages were transcribed by H. 70. The Gift. Ibid. 259. D. p. ed. See. Ibid. H.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. pp. 1989). 66. 47. Ibid.” 1. Ibid. 35. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. 54. Ibid. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. Warlick. 53. 24. 21. Ibid. 50. 222. 19. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. “Walls.” on which see TG. other authors we could consider here. p. E. pp.. 62.. Ibid. 51. 64.. p. in her “Zinzendorf Notes.. Kraus. 46.. p. Ibid. 39. rpt. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press.. ed.. p. See H. 52. 102. 56.. The Gift. 50.. 1998). and I certainly recommend her article.. for documentation. 29. Kathleen Raine. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). hereafter cited as TG.. p. 68. See H. 49. pp. D. Ibid. Rosenthal. H. p. 48. 17–19. 75. D. Irina Gutkin. 1967). and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . 18. 43. 13. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. 9. 60. 72. 1988). 154–155. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. 74. p. 63.” 30–31. p. 1. 71. 157. Ibid. There are. Futurism. 284–285.. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. Ibid. Ibid.. 156–159. D.. H. Ibid. D.. 271–272. 67.. 225–246. 73. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 67. 65. Social Realism” in B. 1997). p. Ibid... 33. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. p. See Jane Augustine. 44. 32. D. “Notes... 66. “The Walls Do Not Fall.. of course..” 17. Ibid. 59. 20. pp. 169. Ibid. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 50–51. as well as this entire collection of articles. Ibid. 165.. 23. 57. 223.. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. Ibid. H. 70...
Poems. 115. cit. Dion Fortune. 81. 83. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. Southey. Ibid. Ibid. 239. 78. 104–104. p.. Ibid. 1893). 88. S. 98. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. pp. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. 101. 82–83.. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). n. 85. I. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press.. The Works of William Blake. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire.. Gareth Knight. 320. p. C. p. retained his magical regalia in his office. 1994) p. 1997).. 87... 1994). Ibid. 87.. so I have decided not to include them here. 80.). The Magical World of the Inklings. op. p. p. Ibid. p. Ibid. 90. See on this point. 323. 99. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. p. (London: Quaritch. E. 10. and Meditations. 86. op. hereafter noted as Meditations. B. Fortune. pp. 92. 1990). 40. p. See Antoine Faivre. 70–71. Gareth Knight. Vision.. 94. 102. Ibid. 88. 95. 100. Faivre. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. 291. pp. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed.. including Fortune’s. 382. noted hereafter as Vision. p. 124–125. cit. The Secrets of Dr. cit. Collins. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. p. Yeats. 3 vols. 322.. 154. See Collins. Meditations.. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. Ibid. Ibid. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. 91. 1993). Faivre. Lewis. 127. p.25. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. Ibid. Ibid. Dion Fortune. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel.. . 101. See for instance.d. 79.). Collins. 1814). 96. p. Vision. 112. pp. Lewis. 197.. p. Letters from England (London: Longman. p. pp. C. p. 40. 21. 1988) p. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. 82. 20–21. op. 103. 102. Ibid. Ellis and W. 1994). ed. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 97. 95.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). Ibid.. p. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. p.. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. 93.. 77. p. 76. 89. S. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. Dion Fortune.. p. 91. 43. 84.
D. 199. 103. 123.” in B.. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. for example. . p. 122. 1980). 106. Freedom and the Spirit.. p... 170. 285.. IV . Futurism. 1957). Toronto: 1948). Ibid. 40 and pp.. Nishitani Keiji. 74. 112. 109.29–30. Knapp. Ibid. Ibid. 105. 78.1 ff. pp. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 1958). See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 114. 106. p. p.. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. ed.. Versluis. See Versluis. Christosophia. 1978). 95. Ibid. 124.. Nicholas Berdyaev. 110. pp.. p. Ibid. 130.” 108. Ibid.31. 111. pp. II. 113. Diss.. p. Ibid. Irina Gutkin. 126. pp. I added the colors. p. p. Ibid. 119. Ibid. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.31. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 62. 25 ff. E. I. 117.” and I.. p. “Warnung an den Leser. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. 1991). p. 71 ff. 129. pp. 1997) p. Ibid. A. 93. p. Christosophia IV . The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 275 ff.. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). Ibid. forthcoming. See... p. “Vorrede. Rosenthal. Socialist Realism. 125. p. Ibid. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. 94. p. 40. Ibid. p. Ibid. See Charles C. 62–63. 127. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press.. 116. 225. 121. See also The Destiny of Man. 63. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. 39. p. 105. trs... 118. 115.1.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. 120. Ibid. 108 ff. 1994). 107. Ibid.. 194 ff.. Peter Erb. 128.
53. Sir Thomas. 40–41. Heinrich Cornelius. 78. 5. 14. James. 141 Agrippa. Tycho. 45 Chaucer. 154 Book of Life. Giordano. 80 Böhme. 28. 147 Buddhism. 96 Berdyaev. initiatory nature of. 25 Apuleius. 53. 148–150 Alchemy. 57. 28. 76 Buddhism. 28–29. 81–82 Dee. 42. 75. 93. Thomas. 129. 148 Barrett. 82–83 169 . Francis. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 89. Franz von. Cecil. 59 Dante. 10. 30. 81–82 Descartes. Abbot. 75 Chivalry. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 17 Blake. 24. 56 Amor Proximi. 81. 40 Bible. 90. 72 Consciousness. 129–135 Comenius. 102. 143–144.E. 96 Dee. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 2 Aurea Catena.INDEX Abulafia. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 68. ix. 81 Bruno. 11 Dury. Roger. 154 Dogen. 129. 77 Bromley. 61–62. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 68–71. William. 52. Abraham. 152 Brahe. 140. 139. 4. John. 95. 53 A. John. 47. 35–43. 56 Art. 138 Basilides. Tibetan. Henry. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 24. 78. 5. 64. 94. 51. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 59. 82 Bacon. 142. William. 80. 97 Cremer. 56 Bahir. Elias. 28. 66 Corbin. 137 Boethius. Arthur. Emily. 94. 93. 22 Cordovero. 99 Dickinson. 57 Beatrice. 20. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis.. 25 Ashmole. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 150 Browne. Nicholas. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 97. 18. 1 Collins. Jacob. 80–82 Astrology. René. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 63. 31 Basilius Valentinus. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 56 Baader. 31. 1. 27–28. Geoffrey. 63 Anderson. 79 Backhouse. 55–67. 141–142. 46 Christ. 2. Moses. John. 5.
Book of. Edward. Abraham von. 112 Friedman. 1. 21 Heydon. 42. 153–154 Eriugena. Steven. 68. Carlos. 99 Grail cycle. Jean. 12–15. 102 Ernst. 105. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance.D. 103 Fuller. 46–52. 138 Katz. 123–126. 89–103 Hermetism. 75. 52–54 Kabbalah. 1 Keeble. 9. Robert. 50. 11 Hutton. 56 Fludd. 28. 85 Merkabah mysticism. Joseph de. Christian. 56 Jerusalem. 19. 77 Gelpi. 5. 29 Hiram. 153 Homer. Benjamin. 18–21. 83. ix. C. Herman. 103–119 Hardenberg. 44. 104. Jane. 127 Frankenberg. 54. 29 Mazet. 104 Gichtel. Edmond. 63. 137 Goethe. 40 . ix. 120–122. 84. Susan. 43–45. 97. 2. Margaret. 104. 89. 105 Eliade. 140 Hippolytus. John Scotus. Samuel. 102 Leade. 100 Hirst. 2. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 101 Freemasonry. 76 Maistre. 65. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 127 Loskiel. 4. Francis. 36–39 Gutkin. 102 Lee.170 INDEX Eckhart. 69 Franklin. 84 Lewis. 56. 139 H. Meister. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. Ramon. 51 Islam. 76. 104. Victor Sogen. 140 La Fontaine. 5 Hori. Dion.S. T. Mircea. 77 Flamel.S. 19.. 111 Emerson. 89.. Joseph Edward. 26–31. 56 Maier. 109. 95 Hartlib. 109 Hermeticism. 78 Gnosis. Max. Antoine. 10–12. Jewish. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. Irina. 2. 7–8. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. Désirée. 112 Imagination. 55 Koran. 82–83 Heidegger. 89. 21–22 Hermetica. 80–81 Fortune. 101–102 Frey. 126. 107. 100. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 151 Merswin. Wolfram von. 25 John. 30. 21. Martin. Georg Heinrich. 90. 100 Marcus. 46. 50. 2. 106 Eschenbach. Albert. John. Johann Georg. 111 Geheime Figuren. 31 Melville. 19 Faivre. Johannes. 7–8 Esotericism. Andreas. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 19–21. Ralph Waldo. 22–24 Initiation. 129 Kelley. Johann Wolfgang. Nicholas. 35. 88-89. Brian. 57–59. 22. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 9 Eliot. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 53. 25 Hinduism. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. Gareth. 8. 27–28 Gnosticism. 123. 122 Koan. Jewish. 8–9 Larronde. 72–73 Faust. Michael.. Rulman. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 120. 112 Lull. 82 Knight. 79–86. 103.
George. Emanuel. 19. 103. 2. 85. 138 Stellatus. Vladimir. 92. 46. 21. 50 Schuchard. 9. 68. Thomas. 105. 108 Rimius. 25. 114–115 Thenaud. 58 Numbers. 75–78 Paracelsus. 74.. 112 Ripley. Blaise. 39–40 Solovyov. Sir Walter. 60. 52 Pansophy. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 90 Porete. 36. 87–88. 115. 18. 140 Tauler. 32 Plato. 116 Nature [concept of]. 116 Self. Johannes. 21 Poiret. 110 Southey. 5. 152 . sacred. Bernadette. 90. Rainer Marie. Robert. 148 Platonic archetypes. 115 Pythagoras. 53 Theosophy. 13. 59. Gillaume. 120. William. 69.R. 32. 90 Talmud. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. O. 18. Joseph. 113. 14. René. 79. 47–48. Paulus. 2. 26–27 Moravians. 136 Science and objectification. 66 New Age. 17. 56 Origen. Louis-Claude de. 46. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. Andrew Michael. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 5. 89–103. 26 Tolkien. 89. 90 Milosz. Gospel of. 148 Seidel. 2 Postel. 73. 56. 53 Rilke. Czeslaw. Gustav. 140 Templars.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 52 Piers Ploughman. 99 Scholem. 94. 53. Martinez de. 150. 123 Poimandres. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. J. 11 Russian literature. 112–113 Morienus. 43 Synesius. 56 Swedenborg. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 152 Richter. John. Christian. 76 Sufism. 70. 103. 8 Rosicrucianism. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 109.V ix. 79. Jean. Jean. 40 Raine. 19. 115. 69. 51. 141 . 108. 53 Theseus. 99. 57. 99 Philip. 14–15. 52–53 Revelation. Johann Christoph. 64. 63 Rici.. Milton. 48 Mysticism. 118 Ramsay. 23–26. Book of. 63. 40 Milosz. 137. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 4 Shakespeare. John. 99 Prospero. ix. Henry. 139 Saint Martin. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 4 Reuchlin. 84 Reading. 76 Parzival. 29 Pre-Socratics. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 99 Pasqually. Johannes. Gershom. 56 Moses de Leon. 99. 103 Pyrlaeus. 71–76 Rousseau. 154–156 Norton. 47. 92. 148 Radical ecology. Pierre. 87–88. 105. 67–69. 5 Minotaur. 119 Raleigh. Marsha Keith. Kathleen. Samuel. 64 Roberts. 92. 140 Tao te ching. 84 Pordage.R. Marguerite. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 37–38 Pascal.
31 Viterbo. 156 Zinzendorf. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 112–113 Zohar. 56 . 63.. 86 Welling. 103. Charles. Nicholas. 55. 116 Yates.. ix. 9. 2. 101 Weishaupt. 89. 148 Zen Buddhism. 10. 120. 53 Versluis. 137. M. George.E. 106 Washington. 82 Troubadours. 84 Williams. Georg von. W. ix.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. David. Adam. 148 Zosimos. Arthur. 110. 10. Egidio Cardinal. Hugh. 10. 122–123 Williamson. 111 Warlick. 88.B. 48. Frances. 103. 111. Jean-Baptiste. 75 Yeats. 67–69 Upanishads. 35–43 Ungrund. 79 Willermoz. 64. 103. 140 Valentinus. 104.
Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. Imagination. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. eds. (Leuven: Peeters. 1992). 1992).aseweb.org. 1998).edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. 2 vols. 2001). Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1956). readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 .Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. 2000). 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.msu. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. Theosophy. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. Earlier. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. 1994). Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. (Graz: Akademische. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 1998).esoteric. along with its companion book. Gnoses. 1975). 1998). and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press..
. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. edited by Brian Keeble. Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. 2001). Paul: Paragon House. Gnosis and Literature (St.174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. 2000). 1996). and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. 2002). 1994). 1999). enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Paul: Grail. 1996). and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Paul: Grail. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St.