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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Art.Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. Literature. 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 .
cm. art. magnetic tape. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. 2. Laurie Searl Marketing. Suite 700. Occultism—History. Albany.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. mechanical. electrostatic. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. literature. Title. 3. Anne M. BF1411.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . paper) 1. Authur. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. NY 12207 Production. address State University of New York Press. photocopying. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. Series. recording. 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. p. Occultism in literature. For information. 90 State Street. Occultism in art. I. II.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
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. Pansophic. Rosicrucian. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 .
viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. Art. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .
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. Hence. In writing this book. traditions. C. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. Lewis. D. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. literature. figures. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. but in keeping with my original impetus. V. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources.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. but as the book took shape. At the suggestion of an early reader. and consciousness itself. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. but the work’s focus remains Western. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history.. Milosz. At the very least. and Cecil Collins. ix . and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. O. S. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. art. H.
Poems. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared.D. each of whom helped to make it a better work. Milosz. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H.). 1985). 1997).Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. de L. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. 1994) and Meditations. from Trilogy. 2001). to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O.D. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. V. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. (Ipswich: Golgonooza. from Trilogy. including the adapted cover illustration. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H.D. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. xi . and to Studies in Spirituality. © 1945 by Oxford University Press.).. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Yet for this to take place. however. and metaphysical or transcendent. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. religious. or conveying spiritual experiences. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. the study of mysticism. literary.1 Here. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. These are not. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. figures. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. even apophatic mysticism. artistic. and otherwise. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. and one that has ramifications in many directions.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. but also. mutually 1 . A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. and perhaps even more critically. are now appearing.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. In this book. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways.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. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. provoking. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis.
perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. theosophy. or gnosis. religious. philosophical. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. Rather. . for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. and social histories. Christian theosophy. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. above all this is a book about knowing. that is what this book is about. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. do have certain characteristics in common. Undoubtedly. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. Christian gnosis. Yet these traditions. left out of literary. Jewish Kabbalah. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. magic. provoke. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. Freemasonry. mysticism.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. or convey spiritual awakening. however disparate. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. Like the koan. In particular. however. or Hermeticism. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. Not at all.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. including alchemy. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. But the time for such biases is past. magic. and about how we come to know. Here. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. Rosicrucianism. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. astrology. examples of it include alchemy. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. 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. this must be our primary focus. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. In essence. astrology. of course.
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 there are many treasures to be found there. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. which is often seen either as outdated. our time resembles the early Christian era. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. By looking more closely at the origin.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. we find on the social front. what their predecessors are. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. and to understand their patterns and meaning. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. At the same time on the religious front. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. about reading the stars. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. proliferating wildly. and to alternative forms of spirituality. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. Western esotericism is. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. when a panoply of religions. and cults existed side by side. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. nature. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. In many respects. . For as we will see. in my view. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. therefore. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. despite their often almost bewildering variety. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. To navigate one’s way through these movements. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. And underlying these is. when we look at Western societies. sects. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. the Western esoteric traditions. Thus. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. of course. a vast field.
when we read the works of an Emerson. and ultimately with the divine. Likewise. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. so too there are great readers. we feel as someone else feels. When we read a novel. Greek in origin. and heaven. and will require much elaboration. and each requires the other. but can be transmuted. why do we travel with . but with consciousness itself.’ Unexamined here. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. In every experience of literature. refers to spiritual knowledge. is much deeper than it might at first appear. And when we read a great poem. or spiritual knowledge. we enter into another’s world. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. If there are great writers. of course. minerals and stars. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. 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. also about union.’ that is. What is more. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. purgatory. in other words. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. The word gnosis. The mystery of reading is. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. 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. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell.’ itself a metaphor for our time. By contrast. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. imaginatively enter into different lives. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. reading here guides one toward gnosis.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. however. we have developed machines that ‘read. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves.
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. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. Rather. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. drama. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. and where we are going. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. where we are from. 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. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. like so many others.” 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. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. not about accumulating more information. and when we read them. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. fiction. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. What is more. we understand. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. We make connections. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. and essays.
nature. 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. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. or manipulation. people most of all. it suffuses our language.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. one based not on division but on union. finally. indeed. including people. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. as if catalogic. the way we see the world. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. but also the even more primal act of knowing. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. 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. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. everything. and everything becomes a matter of techné. 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. 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. In this respect.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. and particularly literature. By contrast. most notably Western esoteric traditions. grounded in spirituality. but for connection and union. from which we believe that we are separate. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. quantitative. and the divine. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. living divorced from humanity. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. Those studying the humanities.
alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. And in North America as well. crystals. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. The reader. however. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. so too that choice still exists today. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. and so forth. 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. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. 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. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. But the fact remains that there are also figures. In Western Europe. and consciousness. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. and so to maintain clarity. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. 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. And indeed. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre.6 Subsequently. literature. Indeed. works. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. alone with an author.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. . that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. and groups in Western European and North American history. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions.
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say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.
I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual
admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an
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emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-
At one time.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. . Freedom in fact lies in gravity. but into conventional consciousness . In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. not beyond it. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. From this viewpoint. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. Esoteric literature and art—of which koans are in fact an example—may be seen as both pointing toward and as an expression of cosmological or metaphysical gnosis. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. then it is a breakthrough not out of. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. however. in his Shobogenzo.” Victor Sogen Hori argues that it is mistaken to hold that koans are a means for ascending out of thought and language into a state of pure consciousness. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. 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. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. 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. I believe. . through language and image. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity.”11 This is. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. 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.
the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. as in individual daydreams. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. What makes Western esotericism different above all. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. Like the koan. 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. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. I believe. as I will propose here. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. Rather. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. By . and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. and thus also to the individual. as means of initiation. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. 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. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. for that matter. 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. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. This is not to say that the West had or. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. frustrating though this may be. 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. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. Rather. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. I am arguing that in the West.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.
but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. literary or otherwise. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. guide. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. For instance. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . the action by the act of reading or viewing. This work is circumscribed. the images. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. For example. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part.12 As a result. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. Obviously. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. 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. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. Imagination.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. in other words. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. it is not for a general readership. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. it is for the few.
Sympathetic readers.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. but here a new magical earth is brought . one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. and this too presents problems. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. 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. in other words. 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. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. to understand them. But there is a third perspective. not one’s own. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no.” The gnostic.’ 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. which is what I am proposing here. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. Yet if we answer “yes. and nothing less. who enter into a work imaginatively. 2.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. Initiates. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. and 3. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. graspable solution to a koan. 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. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing.
This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. but resides in a continuum between the two. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. 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. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. In other words. The realm of the imagination. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. What is more. . is by its very nature one of co-creation. 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. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. This. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. to the divine power within that creates. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. then. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. in sum.
and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. the Book of Revelation. The other kind of writing. and. we must begin in antiquity. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. needless to say. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. 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. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. what we may call a 17 . remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. death. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. Here. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. And to find these themes. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. however. and resurrection. This. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. From relatively early on. is profoundly different. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms.
the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. on the other hand. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. or historical. symbolic. for instance. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. be it scientific. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. the development of Buddhism. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. revelatory emphasis. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. an ahistorical. of course. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. . multilayered approaches. should it be ahistorical. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. The gnostics. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. and on the other. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. 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. By contrast. Consider. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. legal. and mythic. so rare—in fact. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. literal. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. or technological. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. 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. and indeed. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. as throughout world religious traditions. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. that one can easily list them. Of course. the Word was not literal but spiritual. we can see how anomalous it is.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. In Christianity. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. This division between exoteric and esoteric can.
who are worthy of it. Who was rejected as heretical. asceticism. but such an approach is not for everyone. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. one is in touch with inconceivable power. however much their literalist opponents think differently.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. that is. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. In general. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. and who else was accepted as orthodox. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. 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. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. and communion. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. true pronunciation. here it is vertical. the seeds of all things. and spiritual illumination. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. chiefly vowels. For instance. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. but of communication. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. just . This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. Likewise.
such images represent divine aspects. then.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. 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. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. inconceivable power would be set loose. and so forth. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. and macrocosmically. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. basilisks. 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. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels.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. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. The letters. so the letters were altered. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. Letters and numbers. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. thereby making this conflict inevitable. and we may recall that Dionysius the Areopagite devoted some effort to discussing how the divine may best be symbolized by unexpected and even grotesque images that keep us from mistaking a beautiful image for the thing itself. and 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. 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 to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. are a means to creation’s redemption. as principles of creation itself. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. 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. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. but if the letters were properly restored. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. paradoxically conveyed often through . and so forth.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. as does the creation of images.
but share elements in common with all three.22b) . which were also about death and resurrection.” but not like an ordinary sleep. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. “for I am with you everywhere. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. presented in the form of dialogues. in symbols and myths. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. number. of the mysteries tradition.” From the very beginning.” the being. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. out of which emerges a “holy Word. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. letter. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries.” the “voice of the Light. “I know what you wish. 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. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. Poimandres.25). is self-evident. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. In at least some respects. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. There is no one author of the Hermetica. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic.” (X. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. tells him. in the first centuries of this era. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. “there is communion between soul and soul. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity.
and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. Christian esotericism. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. the mystery traditions. mercurial quality to it. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. what we find is something quite different. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. then. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. However. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. yet not strictly philosophical either. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. Like Hermes himself. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. and there is a witness to the revelation. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. traditions. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. always there is a fluid. For from what we have said. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. or direct knowledge of the divine. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. 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. and . 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. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. It is. Platonism. Indeed.” “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.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. they certainly intermingled. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. and Hermetism. and writings that reveal a great many similarities.
And immediately I was in the spirit. off the Greek coast. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. beginning with the Revelation to John. Above all. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. . mythology. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. questions. John. in other words. quite well known. I believe that literature. an elder tells him to weep not. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . and in the tenth chapter. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. once introduced to this sequence.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. and does eat. when he weeps. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. Rather. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. he is told to eat. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. and the auditory part of the vision began. but take place in their own time. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. and behold. and future are visible. apparently visionary time. a little book sweet as honey. Yet interestingly. a throne was set in heaven. . came the following: “After this I looked. he sees the twenty-four elders. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. However. Then. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. in the fourth chapter. a mesocosm. There are. and behold. turned. At one point. present. of course. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . or field of the imagination. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. where John meets. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). Although the vision has a beginning. saw and heard these things. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. and one sat on the throne. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. when he eats the book. and only then. and he interacts with them. a door was opened in heaven. and where the earthly past.
the very book that we are reading. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. angels. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him.12). and Hermetism. all remind us of the prior traditions. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. 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. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. but sweet as honey on his lips. and by eating the book. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. Christian Gnosticism. and finds it bitter in his belly. in other words. John is given a little book to eat. 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). Taken together. But for our purposes. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. John is united with its knowledge.13). and are in a sense initiates. One.” during these the end times. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. of course. the Book of Revelation of St. we will recall. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. there are “other books. becoming symbolically charged. 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. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. Every aspect of life is altered. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. And then there is. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis.9). and one hundred forty-fours.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. of course.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. Additionally. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. which he does. In the tenth chapter. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. a gnostic encounter with elders. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. twelves. The Revelation. found in Judaism. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega.
but among numerous other revelations from the same era. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. At the same time. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. Yet because it became canonical. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. and of James and of Adam. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. Of course. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. at the Kabbalistic tradition. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. the Ascension of Isaiah. and what is heard. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. splendid earthly form: but again. words. Rather. and what is seen. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. including the two books of Enoch.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. profoundly symbolic numbers. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. where an encounter may take place. the Revelation does not stand alone. at the mystical tradition. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. it is an image. seen by a seer. 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 . a hearer. 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. all of which belong to the apocrypha.
But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. a constellation of letters and numbers. of being charged. as wild as the book of Revelation. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. or put better. for although the Revelation is the most well known. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. ranging from external to internal. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. far more than may at first appear. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. without relevance to oneself. has a certain value here: a symbol or image.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. it is certainly not the only one. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. to make it one’s own. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. or one may enter into it—just as there is a range of approaches to such a work—so too there is a range of such works. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. how hieroeidetic a work is. In other words. more electric. The analogy of electricity. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. we are drawn toward it. 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. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. and exists more for entertainment. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. often in a simple story. or from exoteric to esoteric. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. Esoteric literature. objectifying it. And though we risk being burned. So it is with the story of Theseus. to the transcendent.’ of participation. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives.
ter, Ariadne, and a thread that led him out. The symbolism here is profound, and certainly reflects the ancient Mithraic mystery symbolism of the bull, the labyrinth of the world, and escape-rebirth. But perhaps we may adapt this symbolism to our own purposes, for when we consider the subject of gnosis, we too find ourselves in a labyrinth, and require some thread to guide us out. This thread is the topic of gnosis itself, for by exploring it, we will be far better prepared to understand the often bewildering variety of Western esoteric traditions. The word gnosis, because it is singular, implies that there is but one kind of gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. However, when we consider the range of religious literature, even that labeled “gnostic,” we seem to find a bewildering spectrum of gnoses. We might divide this spectrum into cosmological gnosis (insight into the hidden patterns in the cosmos), eschatological gnosis (insight into what transcends history and the cosmos), and metaphysical gnosis (insight into the divine), even though all of these may be seen as aspects of a single gnosis. And concerning metaphysical gnosis, or direct insight into the nature of the divine itself, we find two primary approaches that we may call visionary and unitive gnosis, corresponding to the via positiva and the via negativa discussed by Dionysius the Areopagite. The via positiva, or visionary approach, goes through images and the field of the imagination; the via negativa, or unitive approach, is the falling away of all images. It has become more or less commonplace, following Dionysius himself, to see the via negativa as superior to the via positiva. Dionysius writes that sacred revelation often proceeds through sacred images in which like represents like, while also using forms that are dissimilar, and even entirely inadequate and ridiculous (Cel. Hier. 140c). But he goes on to remark that a second way, of going beyond images entirely in the via negativa, is “more appropriate, for as the secret and sacred tradition has instructed, God is in no way like the things that have being, and we have no knowledge at all of his incomprehensible and ineffable transcendence” (Cel. Hier. 141a). What Dionysius observes here is extremely important, in particular his insistence on a secret and sacred tradition that the Divine completely transcends the realm of being. Dionysius’s observation—that God in no way resembles the things that have being—combats a tendency that, as we have already noted, is common to the traditions of the Book: taking writing literally. Literalism corresponds to what in Judaism was called “idolatry”: it reduces the Divine to human concepts that can be manipulated. This tendency may also be called “objectification,” and is a common function of language more generally. For language by its nature can separate us from what we are discussing: we objectify the Divine just as we objectify all that surrounds us, including nature and other people. But this process of objectification inherently separates us from what we see in this way: the very word God becomes a barrier to experiencing what that word means.
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In other words, gnostic knowledge is fundamentally different from ratiocinative knowledge, and the language to express gnosis must reflect this difference. Ratiocinative (from ratio, measure between things) knowledge belongs to the realm of division into subject and object: ‘I’ discuss ‘that.’ Such is the basis for modern science, and ratiocinative knowledge can be widely disseminated as information or data. By contrast, gnosis belongs to a secret or intimate tradition and cannot be widely disseminated as information because it does not belong to the realm of information and division at all, but instead to what transcends division. The scientific or ratiocinative path moves toward ever greater data about what is external; the gnostic path moves toward ever greater intimacy with what transcends both internal and external. Gnosis, then, is not at all a matter of ‘I’ discussing ‘that,’ but of going beyond the very division between ‘I’ and ‘that.’ The question, of course, is how one moves toward gnostic knowledge, and the answers to this question in the West comprise the Western esoteric traditions. The essential division offered by Dionysius the Areopagite between the via positiva and the via negativa helps us begin to discuss these answers in a schematic way, not because these two ways are at all opposed to each other, but because they illuminate each other. Indeed, they correspond rather closely to what we see in the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition, where visualization and a plethora of imagery express their own transcendence. The Prajnaparamita Sutra, with its verses on sheer transcendence of all that is sensory, does not invalidate but expresses the ultimate meaning of the countless Buddhist images often in the very hall where it is chanted. Likewise, in the Western esoteric traditions, one finds a vast range of imagery and means, but these are generally seen within the traditions as an expression of what transcends them. The problem here, and in language itself, is that it is all too easy to regard words or images as if they were the thing itself, to ‘fix’ or ‘congeal’ the inconceivable. This is a particularly likely problem when there is no widespread emphasis on the transcendent, as there is within Buddhism, or any continuous lineage of masters or teachers who could guide seekers or initiates. The Western esoteric traditions have largely remained catch-as-catch-can, defined perhaps best by the precarious relationship between an author and a reader through the medium of the book. And the Gnostic Basilides evidently recognized this, for in one of the only fragments attributed to him, he writes of the ineffable transcendent nothing, and notes that “what is called by a name is not absolutely ineffable, but it is not, for the truly ineffable is not ineffable, but ‘above every name which is named’ [Eph. 1.21] . . . Names are inadequate . . . Instead, by understanding without speech one must receive the properties of the things named” (Hipp. Ref. VII.viii). Actual direct experience of the transcendent is far more important than simply knowing the words. Basilides held that he belonged to a secret lineage that ran from Jesus to Matthias to himself, and primary in their revelation was nothingness, or
absolute transcendence. According to his rather bitter opponent Hippolytus, Basilides wrote that before the cosmos, “nothing” existed, “not matter, nor substance, nor the insubstantial, nor an absolute, nor a composite, not conceivable, or inconceivable, not sensible, not devoid of sense, not man, angel, or a god, nothing that has a name or is cognized by intellect” (Ref. VII.ix). Basilides’s emphasis—throughout what little we still have, quoted by Hippolytus from Basilides’s treatises—was consistently on sheer transcendence beyond the medium of human language, and corresponds to the via negativa of Dionysius the Areopagite. Indeed, given the series of negations here that very much resemble those of the Prajnaparamita Sutra in Buddhism, it is not surprising that Basilides is reputed to have been influenced by Buddhism. However, Basilides is not alone in his emphasis on the inconceivability of gnosis, its sheer transcendence of all ratiocination. So too Epiphanes wrote of the Gnostics that “The earliest originating principle was inconceivable, ineffable, and unnameable” (Ref. VI.xxxiv); and Marcus, during a Gnostic Eucharist, reportedly offered a chalice to a woman during the consecration, then received it back from her and said, ‘Grant that the inconceivable and ineffable Grace which existed prior to the universe, may fill thine inner man, and make abound in thee the gnosis of this grace, as she disseminates the seed of the mustard-tree upon good soil’ ” (Ref. VI.xxxv). A similar emphasis is to be found in Dionysius the Areopagite, in his treatise on the Divine Names, for instance, when he remarks that God is beyond all names and creatures, “transcendently and supernaturally, far above creatures, above their being and above their nature” (956B). He continues that “no unity or trinity, no number or oneness, no fruitfulness, indeed nothing that is or is known can proclaim that hiddenness . . . of the transcendent Godhead which transcends every being. There is no name for it and no expression” (981a). Paradoxically, by maintaining an emphasis on the ineffability of the divine, the Gnostics also maintained a via positiva of esoteric words, letters, numbers, and images. But this linguistic mysticism existed within the context of the absolute transcendence that it in fact manifests. In other words, letters, numbers, and images emerge out of the unbegotten, and represent the hidden patterns and harmonies of the cosmos that, by ‘following back,’ inevitably in turn lead one to the ineffable. It is well known that there are Hebrew systems of transforming letters into their numerical meanings, but what is perhaps less remarked upon is that there was an esoteric Greek tradition of such transformations too, probably carried over from Pythagorean and Neoplatonic sources. Thus we find the Gnostic Marcus maintained that the number of Jesus is 888, that the number of the dove is 801, and that the body of truth is composed of letters, the head by Alpha and Omega, the neck by Beta and Psi, and so forth. Sacred numbers, letters, and images reveal the esoteric forming powers of the cosmos. Each letter, according to this tradition, is produced by a particular
a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. although we refer to them by the same names. and in religious experiences. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book.xxxvi). and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. we participate in what they represent. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. This name was composed of four syllables. which is of a totally different order. in dreams. words. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. and numbers emerge in.”3 In other words. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. embody.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. and the entire name had thirty letters. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. As we ‘read’ these images. 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. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. and reveal transcendence.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. but different aspects of the same way. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. sacred images. VI. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. and its light “never sets. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. we become intimate with them. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. 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. For instance. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. not opposite or even complementary ways. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. or one will . we find plays on naming and namelessness. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. or aeon. in the Gospel of Philip. Indeed. the first of which had four letters. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. 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. there is earthly marriage.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different.
The cosmos is no longer opaque. elusive. when one dies.”4 In other words. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. . for such a one the world is transparent. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. not hidden in the darkness and the night. indeed. is. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. characteristic ways of understanding. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. The world has become the aeon. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. but rather. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. divided consciousness. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. evokes. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. 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. the unnameable. The nameless and the named are not divided. not to arbitrary designations. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. gnostic paradigms. but is free in life and in death. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. 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. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. 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. Rather. but its inseparable companion. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. for the aeon is fullness for him. Here naming refers. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object.
of course. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. and are visible in major European literary works. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. On the lowest level. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. . but men have sometimes lowered them to it. my dear brother. Even more intimately yet. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. however. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. of the different properties of beings. They are only the sensible expression. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. separated from the subject who sees. everyone. and therein we obtain the pure key. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. including Piers Ploughman. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra.”6 There is in Saint-Martin’s work a peculiar kind of mystical mathematics from which it is evident that here is indeed an order of knowledge entirely different from the merely quantitative. which all proceed from the one only essence . By contrast. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. . nor wholly from without. without masters. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. More intimately. 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). a third characteristic. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. letters. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. in his own degree. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. on which conventional mathematics is founded. According to rational consciousness. which is the mystery of words and of the book. Here. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. Out of the gnoses of numbers. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far.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. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. A fourth characteristic is imagery. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. whether visible or intellectual. woven together into a .
numbers. in one form or another. letters. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. By following the courses of Western esotericism. Christian. words. Its mysteries of names. from antiquity to the present. 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. Greek. often do not hold at all. and images. and traditions best express his understanding. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. . to become it. in the complex admixtures of Jewish.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. taken together. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. whether. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. Jewish and Christian and Greek. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. 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. Egyptian. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. but also to convey it. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. words. images. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. Roman.
a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. of course. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. 35 . It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. sees her (or him.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. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. The troubadour. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. 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. in giving honor to his beloved. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic.
But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us.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. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. Much more likely that here. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. . but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups.E. particularly the chivalric tradition. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. likewise. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. that is to say. I think. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. is no. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. even surreptitious. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. Instead. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. never explicitly discussing. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. 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. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. or love’s faithful. Of course. But when we look at these movements as a whole. for example. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence.
we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. both pagan and Christian. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. teacher of Eschenbach. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. In any event. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. occupying a middle ground between these. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. For. He found that a man named Flegetanis. then the chivalric life is his one desire. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. Hearing this. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. we are told.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. there is no need to erase it. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. whence had come the Grail. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. Naturally. and has a rich reward in heaven. but God may have taken them back. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. that is. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. noble angels. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. worthy. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. but there is another source. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. a hermit. for the name disappears.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. and to whom God sends his angel.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. . those who did not take sides. and this is the mystery of names. For instance. 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.
and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is.38 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and of how the servants of the Grail fell on their knees before the Grail. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question.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. The Grail. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. the spotted knight. Throughout the tale.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. and at the end of the tale. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. Yet this implicit esotericism. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. remains this-worldly in emphasis. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming.” chiefly Saturn. and that is the exalted position of women. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. we will recall. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. just as is Western esotericism more generally. then their sorrows would end.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. we are told to honor women. in particular. And at the book’s conclusion. and if he asked a Question. 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. like chivalric literature more generally. and that of all the Grail servers. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. the knight is told by Feirifiz. When inevitably she does so. of course. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. but also with the changing of the moon. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. Rather. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. He was to ask. then naming them one by one in Arabic. of course. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. For instance. 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. Parzival. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. Saturn to suffering. entertaining.
like several others in the poem. the five virtues. Yet in the story’s conclusion. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. At the end of Gawain. in the image of the pentangle. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. 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. loving kindness. but with the five fingers. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. he ultimately feels shamed. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. First. the number of maidens serving the Grail. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table find the story not only funny but so instructive that they all decide to wear a green girdle like Gawain’s. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. is marked with a tiny colored initial. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. marking why Gawain is a fine man. This famous passage. Gawain’s symbol. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. and. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. continence. these being liberality. with the five wounds of Christ. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. as I have elsewhere shown. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. part of a tradition that. and piety. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight .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. the poem. courtesy.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. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. of course.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. Once again. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. in Gawain as in Parzival. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. And this green marks my second point of observation. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. like Grail tales more generally. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. the first is the true knot. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. When Gawain. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story.
and the illicit. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. Or again. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. perhaps cunning can. like the chivalric orders. green is the color of nature.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning.”] Or again. Gawain. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. although a lay group.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c.” or “the Green Isle. / And since talking directly can’t help us. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. This same duality inheres in the color green. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. and renewal. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. to be renewed. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. pus nons val arditz. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. growth. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. One does find esoteric themes. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. not monastic or priestly. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life.” The Friends of God were. the hidden divine messenger. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. yet at the same time. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. yet it is also the symbol of new life. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs.
Dante sees Beatrice again.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. as does the play that we see here on naming. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. albeit more literary. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. of course. 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. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. as in the Divine Comedy. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. There is. with a final vision about which he will not now write. time. And of course. calls upon the “book of memory. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. of course. La Vita Nuova. Boethius. full of images. poems. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. This is. but the faculty of imaginal perception. and here. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. and his commentary. thrice-blessed Lady. and words and ideas into the empyrean. 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. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. philosophical. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. Dante ends this strange work. an intervening figure in the tradition. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. and exactly nine years later. Thus Dante’s greatest works. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. this time wearing a white dress.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. like the great Divine Comedy. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. is a visionary poem. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. in the ninth hour of the day. who lived during the fifth century. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. In De consolatione. we end by passing beyond space.
42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. with an oratory. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. knarry. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference.” In that “portreiture. bareyne trees olde. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. instrumentz.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. yet he went further. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory.” and by “kervere of ymages. known as a primary literary figure in English history. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. But all the same. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. 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. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. 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. here. marked east and west by gates of marble. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. caroles. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. 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.” “gastly for to see. however. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). daunces” around her. Here. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. Chaucer was not an esotericist. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. the theater of art. Earthy.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. And these are evoked . what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. We see in Chaucer’s tale. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales.” Thus this tale.” with “festes. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. and of divine service. Like Dante. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. Chaucer. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. especially of the knight for his lady. above all.
the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. we are given the meditations of the hermit. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. troubadour. was prolific. given its astonishing scope. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. “knowledge” and “remembrance. In fact. Lull. (part of his romance Blanquerna). like Chaucer. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. literature is not only entertainment. (a kind of chivalric code). ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. The Book of Contemplation. 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. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. For although Lull. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. but with the advent of rationalism. In the ninety-ninth chapter. and Ars generalis ultima.” are familiar to students of . The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation.” The Art represents. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. At this juncture. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. 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. and of course his most well-known and influential works. Not surprisingly. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. and indeed. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. and this is no accident. bringing together the chivalric. Ars brevis. The lover answered. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. not just a set of correspondences. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. These terms.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. one for each of the 365 days of the year. until he was thirty. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers.
And through presumption.’ They asked him. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. not of figures. invoking evil spirits as good angels. he condensed his art into nine letters. that is. rather than my Beloved in the world. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. By means of these letters. The cosmos represents the divine writing. This extraordinary art. Lull used more letters. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. we are also participating in this relationship. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. and writings. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. and profaning holy things with figures. ‘Yes. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. and writings in themselves. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. just as the writer is in his book. Further. Of course. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. and by writings. whose influence extended across Europe. images. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. Originally. since my Beloved contains all. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. out of arrogance or presumption. all errors are implanted in the world. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. images. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work.’”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. west. as the readers of Lull’s book. but of those done with the wrong attitude. but for purposes of clarity. Here we find a clear condemnation. north and south. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism.” In this falsified knowledge. 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. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. However.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. and images.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. and that is the book.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. most of all in the exposition of his art. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved.
The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. trees. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. Hence in many respects. For instance. angel. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. E—Potestas. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. has vast implications. whether?. The Lullian art. and avarice. difference. For this reason. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. justice. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. Lull himself combined them using circles. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. 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. or that from the Ars brevis. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. it includes and transcends logic. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. B signifies. Of course his work is unique. what?. concordance. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. In the full art. prudence. for example. I— Veritas. B—Bonitas. 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. 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. “goodness. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. God. and gluttony. 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. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. for instance. and so forth. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations.” C signifies “greatness. triangles. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. depending upon how the letters are combined. At the same time. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. tables. and numerous other arrangements. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. found in the Ars compendiosa.
but this is virtually never the case. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. Christian. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. troubadour.or eighteenth-century German. And as literature. 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. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. . 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.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. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. 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. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. the words. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. Rosicrucianism. of course. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. and Freemasonry. but what is more. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. intricately woven. Rather. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. It is. French. or English gnostic. In these traditions. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. however. the chivalric. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions.
number. Castile. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. 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. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. and Kabbalism more generally. . and elsewhere in Europe. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. But the Bahir.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. The book Bahir. 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 cosmogony. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. for instance. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. disclosing them only in parabolic language. 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. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. also may have roots elsewhere. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. and thus Kabbalism. For instance. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. dating to the Talmudic period. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. And in fact. or ten dimensions of the cosmos.9 Yet at the same time.E. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region.” Scholem concludes. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. “The affinity with the language. terminology. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings.8 But for our purposes. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism.
is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. 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. said to symbolize the abdomen. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. caught up in the spirit. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. but another view. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. the tonal accents.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. for example. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. 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. 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.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos.” (that is. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. including the human body. supported by some contemporary testimony. But in any event.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. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name.” Indeed.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. which comprise a total of 613 letters. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. In section 124. as a female is fertilized from the male. and natural realms at once. For example. informing the cultural. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar.11 Of course. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. spiritual. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. writing the Names of God) and through this power.
HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. .”18 This. or aleph. and yod in turn becomes twenty. . tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. whispering. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations.”17 By investigation. in the Fountain of Wisdom. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. yet when these Names are removed.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a.”14 In other words. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. not even Moses.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. and 160. forty.” One can easily see.” which may or may not itself be an “a. so to say.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. Here. all are found in this Name. speech. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. eighty. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. voice. Through this kind of multiplication.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. 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. all comprehension and thought. utterance. made transparent so . For instance. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. but My Face will not be seen. action . inquiry . one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. . from reading this extraordinary work. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it.” 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.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. is allowed to ask questions. an ¯ “ether. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. the tenth letter. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. we are told. corresponding to yod.” about which no one. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. out of it emerges the Names. the essence of everything. in this context. 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. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. .
Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. sometimes without. All of these exist. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. but from the other. but also metaphysical.50 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E that through them in the eye of imagination we can see the hidden principles and working of the cosmos itself. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. 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.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. Medieval Kabbalism. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. is not only cosmological. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. including thought. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. ’En sof literally means “infinity. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. emerges. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. not from this side. then. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. Indeed. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. as Scholem remarks. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. broadly speaking. that of hardened or congealed materiality.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought.20 For that matter.
lar thing as language is its essential life.”21 In fact, for the Kabbalists letters have a plastic quality: in forming words, they are forming also the actual divine nature of things, so that to enter into the mysteries of words is to penetrate beyond language as we ordinarily conceive it into the hidden nature of God himself. Here again we have come upon the dual nature of language: there is exoteric language, which is veiling and limited; and there is esoteric language, which is unveiling and virtually unlimited in its ramifications. Particularly in the case of Kabbalistic word and letter combination can we say that esoteric uses of language are virtually unlimited in effect, for Kabbalism has since at least the time of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (c. 1165–1230) and Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (c. 1240–1292) employed techniques of linguistic recombination that in turn, if practiced over a period of time, result in ecstasy and visionary illumination. In the case of R. Eleazar and Abraham Abulafia, the technique entails combining the Tetragrammaton with the letters of the alphabet in order to bring one to a transcendent state of divine knowledge or gnosis. According to Abulafia, this technique, which requires isolation, prolonged practice, and special breathing techniques, “draws down the supernal force in order to unite it with you.”22 Thus esoteric language is not only a guide toward gnosis, it is here the actual means to gnosis. Central to Kabbalism is esoteric language. Isaac of Acre, for instance, distinguished between the mere acquisition of knowledge through ordinary learning and the direct gnosis by the intellect.23 And his predecessor Isaac the Blind used the analogy of a great tree, in which inward and subtle essences of wisdom (hokhmah) exist and move through the tree like sap. We partake of this wisdom, or sap, by “sucking,” which is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge from that gained by ordinary reading; it is a participatory gnosis in which we directly experience the essence-language of creation itself, moving in and through all that is. Here again we have reading and writing that go far beyond what we ordinarily regard them as—here esotericism and literature are totally fused. Such analogies and definitions as that of the tree, or “sucking,” or for that matter of celestial reading and writing, do indeed correspond to those of the ancient Gnostics; and like the ancient Gnostics, the Kabbalists too produced a wild profusion of works expressing variants of a complex and profound cosmology, as well as a metaphysics of absolute transcendence. In Kabbalism, as in ancient Gnosticism, we find the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, to be prominent, and indeed even find the teaching in Kabbalah of the higher and lower Shekhinah, which parallels the teachings of some Gnostic sects regarding a higher and lower Sophia. There are numerous parallels, but this does not mean that there was direct influence. In any event, this profusion of Kabbalistic works and teachings in turn was to have an immense influence on the subsequent history of Western esoteric
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traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of
language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century
however unfamiliar to us today. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. intricacy. much less the possibility of transcendence. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. . Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. Such an approach to literature. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. But before discussing these implications. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. And when we look at Kabbalism. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. 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. after all. that is. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. To such approaches. Indeed. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. which is. Spain. Here. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. or vice versa. In the eighteenth century. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. ramified throughout religious and literary history. where one finds literature and religion fused. surface is nothing and depth is everything. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars.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. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. In the twentieth century. or vice versa. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. literature represents portals into the transcendent. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. and beauty. For Kabbalah. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. that ultimately all beings will be saved. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent.
we cannot help but notice religious references. but through meditative concentration and inspiration.’ yet not entirely Christian. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. not entirely ‘pagan. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. hence on the one hand religious. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication.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. on the other transmitted by way of literature. When we look at European alchemical works. . alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. like the alchemical expression or riddle. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. as the “art of Hermes. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. to work it through. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. forces one to wrestle with it alone. as we saw earlier. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. To the first-time observer. alchemy. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. However. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. Indeed. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. Of course. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. itself also highly literary: the koan. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. So too.
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. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. in the revelation of paradise. . or animal into its paradisal original true nature. either. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. Roger Bacon.E. and takes place by way of fire. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. After all.—latinized as Rhazes). as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. Olympiodoros. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. put another way. alchemical literature. a tradition transmitted through literature. even if its work resembles these in some respects. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. All of these authors did write on alchemy. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. Synesius. or al-Rhazi (ca. and the spiritualizing of the body. One places oneself in the line of what is.. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. 825–932 C. that is. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. the vegetable.E. the embodying of spirit. and Morienus of the seventh century C. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. Indeed. Thus.E. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry.. Ramon Lull. or the animal kingdom. thirteenth century). Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. George Ripley (fifteenth century). we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. plant. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). as has historical placement. 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.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 how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. For alchemy extends into many realms. at heart. be they in the mineral. even if it does not entirely belong to these.
Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). of course. Maier. Indeed. seek not many utensils for thy labor. which Vulcan cast into the sea. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. and are to come. If thou knowest the substance and the method. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. Here. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. in his preface. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus.” In other words. bracketed by mythological references. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. it is enough. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. Thomas Norton. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. His title. “The Golden Tripod. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists.” 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. . physician.” that is. were. and author Michael Maier. and thou knowest all. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. and gave it to us by mighty toil.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). . consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. . composer. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works.
” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys.” pleads the case of her husband.” With its spiritual essence.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. including two archers shooting at targets. the king bearing a staff. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. despite its elliptical means of expression. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. . he cured a sick fellow monk completely. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. . the queen a three-flowered plant. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. on the far left side a single candle. and that which is palpable. before him a burning barrel.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. while the Moon. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. and this Mars has done. Shortly thereafter.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. while around him are various figures. over a fire. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. and to the queen’s left. is at once literary and practical. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. being bereft of images . and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. to be invisible. to become impalpable . as well as an angel blowing a horn. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. Here you see the perfection of our Art. and proved of the greatest efficacy. a half-naked man with a scythe. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. a king and a queen. 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. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. the Sun. and a man sowing seeds. that which is visible. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. in the background a dead tree stump.
” in a well-stoppered glass jar. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. and prepared in about four days. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. In recent times. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. two of orange arsenic.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. his last testament. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. and tortured for four years. a man named Herbert. strong and pure. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. three of rabusenum. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. Dalton said he was happy to die. Cremer in this. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. of course. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. so as not to lose legibility over time. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. and two of willow charcoal. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. two of living sulphur. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. Such. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. and so was let go. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. we are told. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. 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. 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. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. of .
According to Paracelsus. vegetable. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. its subtle essence. but also through the power of the imagination. Imagination governs the development of things. Spagyric medicine. Of course.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. one branch of alchemy. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. To say. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. fire. then. ethereal counterparts. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. And of course. literary allusions. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. but is joined with them in the imagination. But in any event. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. and animal realms. to carry it within. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. We may ‘read. so one must be cautious in entering into these other dimensions by way of imagination—one is reminded of the proverbial visitor to the faeries who never returned. water. one may know the inner nature of anything. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. for they occupy different dimensions within it. poems. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. Through these evestra. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. Confronted with such a colloquy. epigrams. Paracelsus tells us. not only by looking at words on a page. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. air. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . not all evestra are benefic. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life.’ then. allegories. not merely from the outside and as other.
a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. while others. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. light air.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. emphasize their recipe quality. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. but that in this particular worldview. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. Genesis 1:27. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. philosophy. . geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. fire. and so forth. these two poles became further separated. may be interpreted in both ways at once. . more real than what we see in the physical. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. . II Chronicles 13:5. The terms used in its title—oil. indeed. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. It is as though here alchemy. as a spirit. like Cremer’s testament. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. wine.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. Of course. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. it is entirely real. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. but here are clearly spiritualized. the true medicine and theology. This is the true Ground of Nature . 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. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. including Romans 1. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth .”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. 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. and mist. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. like Valentinus’s. a matter of . 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. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. .” and to a host of Biblical references.74).
. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. . and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work.83). and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. these terms have an alchemical provenance. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. but the Sun light. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. or Water is. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt.83). in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. like Hermeticism.80).77). for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. Salt.105). in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. we are told. in harmony” (II. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. is a perspective that is all depth. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. of existence. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. spiritual dimensions of the work. and when either one is absent. and one three . just as we find for instance Islamic . And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. the depths. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. Oil. and a true Medicus.93). but here. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. Oil. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. a true Astrologus. Fire. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. the author writes “That the earth is dark. nor whence they emerge (II. However. as a kind of counterpoint. for instance. Water. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. And so we find the three One. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. easily translates into a dominant religion. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. that is the mystery wherein all lies. Thus. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. inward dimension. Yet alchemy. In fact. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity.
not merely a pastiche.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. Christian theosophy. of course. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. and he and his spiritual circle. on mercury. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. including “Chymie” or alchemy. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. 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.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). on sulfur. The implication. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. But such rumors aside. and of the third. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). on salt. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. This is not . Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. astrology.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. Kabbalah. Pordage’s work. Indeed. of the second.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. from spiritual to physical. astrological. 1675). is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. 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. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). and Kabbalistic themes. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. and gnostic metaphysics. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. beginning with the organization of the first section.
. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. At the same time. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. he elided many details. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. Christian scripture. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . of Pisa. with a plethora of astrological symbols. and “Manna Coeleste. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. Here. sulfur. . von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). For instance. but might well also be called pansophic. “Alchimische Fragen. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. and calcify it by hand.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. das himmlische Manna genannt. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. diagrams. in other words. Indeed.” “Thronen.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. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. 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. then in a Liquorem . Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. 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 so forth. including D. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. and in this regard he succeeded. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722).” Further. tables. charts. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. and instructions.” “Cherubim. . diagrams. meaning the transcendent Godhead. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. to properly prepare mercury. . the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. or mercury. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends.
alchemy is like learning to use a language. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. Alchemy.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. broadly seen. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. and images. Alchemy. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. so that everything—mineral. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. but also in the microcosm of the artist. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. is a relatively modern phenomenon. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. or grammars. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. a natural homology between alchemy and art. One must learn both to ‘read. of course. In some respects. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. recipes. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. of course. Thus we may well say that. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period.’ in the broadest possible sense. and that we will shortly examine further. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. fire. 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. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . however far-reaching. letters. and to ‘write. air. as well as with what these represent. In this sense. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. for example. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. Here. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. animal. but even more in the perfection of humanity. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. vegetable. water. both seek to perfect this creativity.’ There is. including not only chemicals and equipment. we can easily see. like a painting.
But in alchemical works. humanity. and science are one. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. religion. both of physics and of literary criticism. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. nature. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. like those of science. Indeed. between subject and object. Oral commentary by a master is important. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. and the divine in ever more profound ways. in the manner of a mathematical equation. 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. 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. In alchemy. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. humanity. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. 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. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. and the divine. The ‘solution. were one to decipher what x and y mean. Contemporary views of literature.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 restoration of the right . This is by no means to suggest. Rather. It is true that more recently theorists. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. between the observer and that which is observed.’ in the case of alchemy. Here in alchemy. extends into a range of realms at once. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. no doubt of that. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. like Jung. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. literature. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. In Christian terms. one would have the solution. I would use the word decoding. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. However. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader.
esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. in particular Christian theosophy. divided against the world. Rosicrucianism. So it is with alchemy. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. against ourselves. especially during the eighteenth. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. between the sciences and the . it has not only continued to exist to the present day. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. but in relation to a host of other currents. We should also keep in mind the growing split. 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. nineteenth. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. PA N S O P H I C . Indeed. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. and twentieth centuries. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. in the modern era. 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. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. pansophy. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. and Freemasonry. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. As we have seen. R O S I C R U C I A N . We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. and against the divine. In the study of Western esotericism.
all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. wrote literary works. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. including. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. comparative and syncretic. as well as De Signatura . rather than seeking to separate. and drawing from his visionary experiences. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. and Franz von Baader. It is true that. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. to name only a few of the most luminary. our approach being thematic. a city on the eastern side of Germany. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. But Western esotericism. However. John Pordage. practiced medicine and astrology. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. archaeology. near Poland. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. at least in the secular world. physical chemistry from metaphysics. quite the opposite movement. Indeed. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. The Copernican revolution. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). or Aurora. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. in the sciences. the discovery of more complex technology. medicine and astrology. explored theology and metaphysics. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. and in religion. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. illustration and literature. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. Rather.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. the emergence of biology. Whereas in medieval Europe and England.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. chemistry. and geology. the fields of alchemy. in the arts. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. this sense of unity dissolved. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. in Western esotericism we find. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. nor is that our aim. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. say.
Rerum (The Signature of All Things), Christosophia, and numerous letters and shorter works. Even these titles reveal the connections between Böhme and the earlier traditions we have discussed: Mysterium Magnum, with its elaborate exegesis of Genesis, is certainly indebted to the Kabbalistic tradition; The Signature of All Things is an extended discussion of, among many topics, the Hermetic doctrine of signatures developed by Paracelsus; and Christosophia, often translated as The Way to Christ, entails a chivalric ethic of fidelity to the feminine figure of Wisdom, the Virgin Sophia. What is more, there unquestionably are profound parallels between Böhme’s writings and ancient Gnosticism, parallels that became even clearer in later theosophic figures like the English Philadelphians.43 Thus we can see how Böhmean theosophy reveals the syncretism so characteristic of modern esotericism more generally; here numerous traditions meet and are fused into a profound new union that was to have enormous influence on the subsequent history of Western esotericism. Böhme’s work, according to his own testimony, derived chiefly from his own personal experience, but there is evidence that he had extensive contacts with Hermetic and Kabbalistic circles of his day, including lengthy discussions with Abraham von Frankenberg, himself an author on Kabbalistic subjects. That Böhme’s writing emerged from his own visionary perceptions and inspiration is unquestionable, for he wrote with authority and certainty about a vast range of cosmological and metaphysical principles. What is more, he developed a particular language, drawing upon Hermetic, alchemical, and Kabbalistic sources, to express this inspiration, a special terminology with both Latinate and Germanic roots. But Böhme drew from prior traditions as well, and his work may be described as unique or as a brilliant synthesis, for both are true. Although Böhme’s terminology and mode of expression are often difficult, the basic elements of his thought are not. It is true that Böhme presents a complex cosmology, with his exposition of the Ungrund, or abyss, that precedes existence and that corresponds in Kabbalism to the ’en sof, and in Christian mysticism to Eckhart’s Godhead; with his exposition of the seven source-spirits; and with his unfamiliar terms like limbus, lubet, and schrack, describing hidden principles or aspects of the creative process. Yet Böhme has been popular for centuries—from Germany to Russia and America—among those drawn to direct spiritual experience, and this popularity derives from the fact that while his doctrines are almost inexhaustible, the fundamental nature of Böhme’s teaching is clear and simple. Here I will compress a great deal in the hope of sketching the outlines of Böhme’s thought. Böhme held that before the cosmos came into being, there was the Ungrund, or transcendent abyssal origin. From this emerged two realms, the dark-world of wrath and the paradisal light-world, and after a series of primal catastrophes, a “third principle,” physical nature. Human beings
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can participate in all three of these principles; some people belong to the wrathworld of fury and destructiveness, some to the paradisal light-world, but mostly we find ourselves mediating among all of these. Our purpose as human beings, simply put, is to transmute the wrath-quality in ourselves into paradisal light and love. This process of transmutation, a kind of spiritual alchemy, is true religion; without it, religion is merely outward “Babel,” the appearance without the reality. Böhme’s approach to language is of particular interest to us, for, quite in line with the numerous currents of the Western esoteric traditions that preceded him, Böhme created a complex linguistic mysticism. In Aurora, Böhme’s first book, he introduced this mysticism of the word, writing that “The whole power of the Father speaks, out of all the qualities, the Word, i.e., the Son of God. The same word, or the same sound, spoken by the Father, issues out of the Salniter, or the powers of the Father, and out of the Father’s Mercurius, or sound . . . for the outspoken Word remains as a glory or majestic command before the king, but the sound, issuing through the word, executes the command of the Father which he has spoken through the word, and in this is the birth of the Holy Trinity. The same takes place in an angel or in a man” (vi.2). Böhme’s language here is resonant with alchemical and Jewish allusions, but these allusions appear in a clearly Christian context, and although they refer to the Word in the Trinity, they also refer to the word in humanity. Böhme extends this linguistic mysticism to every living thing. In his giant commentary on Genesis, Mysterium Magnum, he writes that “every creature has its own center for its outspeaking, or the sound of the formed word within itself, both eternal and temporal beings: the unreasoning ones as well as man; for the first Ens has been spoken out of the sound of God, by Wisdom, out of her center into the fire and light, and has been formed into the fiat, and entered into compaction. The Ens is out of the eternal, but the compaction is out of the temporal, and therefore in everything there is something eternal hidden in time” (xxii.2). Here Böhme elaborates on the metaphysics of what he also discusses in De Signatura Rerum, the esoteric view older than Pythagoras that everything in creation emerges out of its resonating linguistic, sonic, energetic origin as an emanation or manifestation of an archetype. What is more, there is a teleological significance to this doctrine. For if all beings preëxist their material manifestation in the archetypal realm of the word, after manifestation each manifested thing will return to its transcendent origin, that belonging to love returning to love and that belonging to wrath returning to wrath. Böhme writes: “In that quality in which each word in the human voice in the act of outspeaking forms and manifests itself, either in the love of God, as in the Holy Ens, or in the wrath of God; in the same quality will it be taken up again therein after it has been spoken out. The false word becomes infected by the devil, and sealed up for its [future] detriment, and is received within the
Mysterium of the wrath, in the quality of the dark-world. Each thing returns with its Ens to where it has originated” (xxii.6). This is not predestination, exactly, but rather the sifting of the chaff from the wheat at time’s end. We can see here how language is intimately tied up with the metaphysics of love and wrath. In the fallen world, wrathfulness is the principle of separation and objectification as well as of anger, and so the language of extreme ratiocination also belongs to the wrath. Reason has its place, but when it becomes separated from love, it becomes objectifying and destructive and a functionary of wrath, while language divorced from its transcendent origin becomes Babel or babble. Yet all of this refers to the fallen world, the sphere of discord, chaos, confusion. The means of order’s restoration is the Word, the restoration of light and love in one’s life. But such a restoration takes place through a process of awakening or illumination that is a process of transmuting wrath into love, darkness into light. This process is also that of restoring language from its fallen state (as a means of objectification) into its primordial state of union. This process is the awakening of the true Word in us. Böhme writes that “our whole religion consists in learning how to go out of dissension and vanity and to reënter the one Tree, whence we have come in Adam, and which is Christ in us” (Regener, viii.2). Thus, “he who fully enters into this state of divine rest in Christ arrives through Him at the perception of divinity. He then sees God in himself and everywhere; he speaks with God and God speaks with him, and he understands what is the Word, Essence, and Will of God. Such a one, and no other, is capable of teaching the Word of God himself: for God is one with him, and he wills nothing but what God wills through him” (Mysterium Magnum, xlii.63). The Word of God here has special and profound meaning; it refers to the essence of deity, the transcendent origin of existence. And by realizing this Word, one restores all subordinate language as well as nature itself (whose creatures each also incarnate divine signatures or words) to their primordial unitive or paradisal state. From all of this we can see that the fundamental impetus of Böhme’s work is integrative, not on a cultural so much as on an individual, primal level. Böhme calls the individual toward reintegration or union, and it is the individual nature of this call that has subsequently attracted so many people, in such diverse social situations, toward theosophy. But at the same time, we can easily see how this same integrative impulse aimed at individual transformation could as well be applied on a wider cultural scale, as for instance as the foundation of an effort to reunify the sciences and the humanities with religion. And in fact, such an effort is precisely what we find happening over the century following Böhme’s life, in the movement called Rosicrucianism. It may be, as some scholars have speculated, that Böhme was himself familiar with the same movement which, ten years before Böhme’s death, began to emerge under the name Rosicrucian, with the publication of the
are to be collected by the wise. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. like us. like its complement the Confessio. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. and why he is called Microcosmos. R. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. C. returns eventually to Germany. Indeed. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. translates the “book M.”46 When C. even if at times such orders did exist. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature..” however.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is.” These “Books of Nature. R.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. in the Orient. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . and among Sufis and Kabbalists. Hermeticism. Not coincidentally. For from the very beginning of the Fama.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). And of course this brief work.. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. generally speaking. But in any event. and later. “or a perfect method of all arts. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. and this is the “book M. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. R. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. R. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. according to the Fama. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. if not universalism. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. they could collect Librum Naturae. The Rosicrucians’ goal.” into good Latin from Arabic. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise.” C. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. of Christian theosophy as well. 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. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. caused a great stir in Europe.
. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. . and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. Interestingly. . as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. but follow only Christ. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. of eclecticism or universalism.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. and hidden to the wicked world. the foundations and contents of all faculties. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . and come into our brotherhood. Yet once again. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. called I. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. . undestroyed. with a large dictionary . and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. . that you could so read in one only book. first. The description is often hard to follow. they also made the first part of the book M. . recur as well in the Confessio. every one with their several figures and sentences. “After this manner. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. and of reading the mysterious book of books.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. full of geometric symbolism.” the Fama continues. and withal by reading understand and remember.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. like the book. belongs to the mind and imagination. than that which is the head and sum. Among other questions. and by them was made the magical language and writing. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. it is to read the universal book. and arts. 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. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. so that no one might later be deceived. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. and shall be) hath been. are now. wish. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . a century old. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. or hope for. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. sciences. by four persons only. or are able to believe or utter. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm.” There is more. is.
It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. and quite probably to Egypt. without and against the will of God. a new language for ourselves. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. . in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. .54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. and have found out.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. the Bible. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. All of this. and endue them with learning . yet shall we never be manifested . or sixth age. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. yea. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. into all beasts . metahistorical events at the end of time. and made. or worse than nothing. with the date 1604.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. and above all. of course. . of course.”55 The implication is that here. yea. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. for instance.”52 “These characters and letters. . unto any man without the special pleasure of God. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. . 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. a very long history in the West. . Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. a new era for mankind. and writing in a “magic language. for instance.” Such an idea of a magic language has.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. 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.
and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. peaceful.” 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. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. particularly in France. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. The Rosicrucian dream. demons. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio.’s tomb. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. or why. R. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. that is. 1604. or intelligences. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. as well as in subsequent literature. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. brilliant. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. By 1623. on a pansophic mysticism.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. Here. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. and the outrageously baroque. as Frances Yates notes. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. discovered the “Enochian language. 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. disappearing around 1620. was of a non-sectarian. who. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. John Dee (1527–1604). 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. Here. and it too has been used in magical workings. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. 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. or pansophia. the Confessio. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . 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.
alchemical. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). We might recall that. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. healing. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. 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. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. for instance. 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. but like Dee. or magia naturalis. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. alchemy. 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. cabala.. is universal. Ruechlin. Pansophy. not specifically Christian. various forms of magic. In many respects. in contrast to theosophy. Paracelsus. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. and technologism.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. often with Kabbalistic influence. herbalism. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. and inquiry into nature more generally. magical. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. in order to form the basis for a new. mechanism. derived from alchemy. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. cabalistic. of course. Christian or not. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia.p. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. and gnostic. and Michael Maier. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. The most obviously included is natural magic. which is specifically Christian gnosis. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. including. The pansophic view. it emphasizes magic. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. It is true that chemistry. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . 1618)].
as a somewhat medieval figure. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. including sorcery. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century.A. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. of vast and intricate tables. de La Rose-Croix. planetary correspondences. magic squares.. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. including a French edition titled F. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. Cabball. D. and much else. in later Rosicrucianism.O. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. But Chemistry]. even if it is illicit. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. In some respects. and a series of . almost all. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. diagrams. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. we tend to think of Faust. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. Metaphysica. et Hyperphysica. one finds a range of possibilities opening up.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. Philosophia. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. nee non Magia.M. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. chiefly under the title Physica. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. Among the first of these.
for instance. Son. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. in time and in eternity. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. or to Rosicrucianism.” and so forth. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos.” “Heavenly Seed.O. . but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. for instance. Here. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. here we have a different focus. is an effort to render a mappa mundi.M.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. that is. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. surrounded by winged angelic forms. in scholastic theology.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. partaking in both.A. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. And thus when we look at an illustration from D.M. marked also Father. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. of course. 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. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. in visual form. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms.A. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’.” and “Mineral Seed. and Holy Spirit. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. of its hyperphysical dimensions.O.” “Animal Seed. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. the greatest occultist of his day. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. and with the word Chaos.” “Vegetable Seed. John Dee. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers.
in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). in other words. author of such works as Theomagia. stretching right into the nineteenth century. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. the arts. not a visionary. who studied minerology. and associated with the vast . science. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. unlike these other more individualistic movements. One sees this also. was John Heydon. theosophic. originally a scientist. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. but published only in German). who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. (London: 1665). Freemasonry. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. For all of the Rosicrucian. the social and political realm. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. or the Temple of Wisdom. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. truly a Renaissance man. which. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. and specifically. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. not so very long ago. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. of course. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. of course. invented an industrial process. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. Another such figure.
Plato and the Bible. in 1616 and 1617. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. John’s College in Oxford. and Rosicrucianism. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. but the Freemasons endured the longest. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. Sir Thomas Fludd. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. 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. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. of course. Masonry. Fludd. Such publication was. to a speculative. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. the Kabbalah. his father. semireligious occult fraternity. Robert Fludd went to St. not surprisingly. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. 1617). Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. 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. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. Of course. Martianus Capella and. Jewish. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. 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.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. on which he explicitly drew. Indeed. of course. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. having received a knighthood for his military service. the arts. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. Like Paracelsus himself.” published in Leiden. Indeed. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. and the sciences. and although . and during this time began work on his major treatises.
”61 But for our purposes. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. born to an aristocratic family. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. Himself an alchemist. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica.” Elias Ashmole. Arthur Dee. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. Marin Mersenne. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century.60 Then again. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. . Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. astrologer. Ashmole. and back to England. 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. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. 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 Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. Dr. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. But in any event. By the early 1630s. John Dee. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. and assiduous bibliophile. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. 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. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. Dee’s son. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry.
the real . It is significant that Ashmole. John Dury (1596–1680). of course. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. and must remain so. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. . after recording this revelation. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. or as Kabbalistic. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War.62 Backhouse’s father.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. Samuel. and John Comenius (1592–1690). were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. The true name is hidden. . resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. except to his own spiritual son. was not simply an antiquarian. .” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). .”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. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. when Backhouse thought he was dying. but they are in any case gnostic. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . and only philosophers of the English Revolution. of course. never referred to it again. using a symbolic metalanguage. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). All of this. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences.64 These three men. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. one could ignore it.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653.
according to the Constitutions. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. like the symbolism of alchemy. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. 3. 2. The aim of a magical language is. However.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. Such a language. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. 4. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance.” certainly a pansophic goal. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. Philosophicall. Also important here is the third point. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. . Chymical. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . . For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. . But most important for us is the final point. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. Early in the eighteenth century. and Mechanical. needless to say. . Freemasonry. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. . so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. Arts and Sciences. 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.
but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. Italy. and indeed. fraternal Freemasonry. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. 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. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). great. suppress. and master mason. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. And during this time. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. Masonic values of rationalism. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. . After her death. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. . with its general tendency to reject. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . and those who insist on a much more exoteric. In this oration. had an exoteric. excepting only theology and politics. became prominent in French Masonry. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. solid. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. especially in France. On the one hand. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. fellow craftsman. or ignore esotericism. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. On the other hand. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. a theosophic circle in London. it is not surprising that this project. England. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. .67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. while publishing numerous books. announced in Ramsay’s oration. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. In it. The work has already been commenced in London. including. Ramsay. luminous. for instance. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. deism.68 Within Masonry itself. nonsectarian basis. especially in England. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era.
preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. of human and divine architecture both. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. As we have already seen. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry.” In other words. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. six for the clergy.”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. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. and six for the fellow craft. that is. Freemasonry. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. specifically. by which. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. to wit I am. 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.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. even to this day. based as it is on the craft of building. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. In the Graham manuscript of 1726.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. theosophic. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. God has sealed the six directions of space. I answer it was God in six Terminations. . especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism.8). which is as follows: one word for a divine. Rosicrucian.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. Indeed. 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.
The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. and the divine. including alchemy. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. Kabbalah. nature. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. Finally. including humanity).86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. the theme of our next section. pansophy. in Western esotericism. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. magic. Here. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view.” or signature. For according to Western esotericism generally. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. of course. but as the actual medium linking humanity. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. and Christian theosophy. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. not just as the means of communication among people. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. Here. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. What is more. not consume it. its secret “silable. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. . in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. Above all. Masonry. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. And this role is played out through reading and writing. Rosicrucianism.
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 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r.
Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. from . T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .
). .Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. Theosophia Revelata.
). . Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
.). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. Theosophia Revelata.Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o . . 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 .Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . . as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. (Frankfurt: 1784). Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration.
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).Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .
“The Music of Dawn. and the evocative. . otherworldly nature of Collins’s work.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.” 1988.
“Paradise.” 1976. .Figure 10 Cecil Collins.
has brought the play’s action to an end. The Tempest. Which is most faint. or else my project fails. Now I want Spirits to enforce. dwell In this bare island by your spell. And what strength I have’s my own. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. the magician Prospero. 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 . Or sent to Naples. Which was to please. The main character. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got.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. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. And pardoned the deceiver. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. so that we are left viewing the magician himself.
Rosicrucianism. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. Suddenly. In this most magical of plays. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. for instance. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. and Freemasonry. there are numbers. often little more than the accumulation of data. also a magician. is to touch the nature of being itself. letters. Warlick. is a prosaic matter. where the poet-singer is. Initially. via the main character. pansophy. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. by virtue of his skill with words. as audience. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. to sing or to say into being. To incant is to enchant. to invoke the forces of creation itself. Reading. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. and words—often Hebrew. today. it is often inverted and does not . Here. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. As you from crimes would pardoned be. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. E. standing above a reclining woman. That is. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. for example. having relinquished his magical power. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. for most of us. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. Here Prospero. and freed him. To be a vehicle for the right words. we may read in order to gather information about a subject.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. we realize that we. In all of these esoteric traditions. Conventionally. traditionally. are the magicians. but there is no transference of magical power. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. winged creature in an ornate room. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. in effect gives his wand to his audience. Let your indulgence set me free.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. to the audience. shows a tall.
and so I will not discuss them further here. of even greater value is a vertical. horizontal survey is of value. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. Naturally.. split further into sections on poetry and prose. for instance. to the magical fiction of C. sometimes explicitly. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). with sections on each of the major currents. D. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. S. I will leave such a project for another time. during which time his family sold their estate. It is certainly worth doing. V. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. as with Yeats or H. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. Here. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. (1886–1961). sometimes more implicitly. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. more . Milosz traveled widely. his parents somewhat cold and aloof.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. not only in the case of Ernst. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. and perhaps for someone else to do. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. for instance. After a good education. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. his mother Jewish. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. into the world of French intelligentsia. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa.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. D. as can in fact be said of the works of. While a broad. more or less. as with Emerson or Rilke. But his learning is of a particular kind. However. the poet H. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. turning then to H. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. D. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). V. secular or not. and entry. third. Canticle of Knowledge: O. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work.
and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. Swedenborg was. and became. as he saw it. Milosz’s poetry. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. also a tactile visionary. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. These Swedenborg saw. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. hell. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. in fact. for that matter. . whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. 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. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. of heaven. S. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). and the dwelling places of spirits. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. Eliot. a Don Juanesque figure. in vision.” However. and perhaps remains. and. and both wrote in dry. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). Among these figures. Then. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. Goethe. which are what concern us here. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality.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. Kabbalah. and Western esotericism in general. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. One can. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. theosophy. create a kind of lineage of such figures. come to fruition in literary form. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. Not so Milosz. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. in 1914. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. he experienced a spiritual illumination. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). William Blake (1757–1827).
having asked.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word.]”7 . which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. thieves of joy and pain.”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. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). les voleurs de douleur et de joie. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. and like Blake. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. crown of human knowledge.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. but indeed.” telling us that “poetry. de science et d’amour. and especially in Milosz. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. seems bound. “setting out from proven scientific foundations.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. have received and already know. n’entendront rien à ces choses. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. as the organizer of archetypes.” which. on 14 December 1914. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. and also prehistory and archaic history. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. knowledge and love. ayant demandé.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. / Others. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. on reçu et savent déjà. But the poet. astronomy. will understand nothing of these things. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. to join up with ancient teachings. from the cosmos. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. Cartographers of consciousness. seems called upon. qui. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. / Les autres. At this juncture. [For those who. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. and in particular. The canticle continues: “A ceux. the passionate pursuit of the Real. that he anticipated a new poetry. through a new metaphysics. and especially the figures we are discussing here. the observer looks outward. to awakening it in his reader.
but truly fathers of sensible objects. nor sons. darkness. “meditation on the origin of language. and already know. ni les fils.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. salt.” 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]. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. soleil. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. eau. lumière.” writing that to understand the origin of language. addressed to the latter.]”9 In other words. 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. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. but negators. of course. light. this “situated place. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. those who are not affirmers. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. etc. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. ténèbres.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. he continues. sun. sel.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas.” We think that the sensible world is situated. sang. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. to the initiate. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. from Pythagoras to Plato. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. In fact. But characteristically. but living. but it is not so.” Indeed. / For these names are neither brothers.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. water. “their substance is nameless. terre. earth. not like “Patmos. have received. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. Milosz once wrote in a letter that “there are only two kinds of men: the negators who profess irreconcilable systems and the modest affirmers who. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . blood.”8 This gnostic canticle is. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. as well as the names of metals.
” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. that is. Here. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . of the primal . and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. and the gold of celestial memory.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. Milosz tells us again.]”13 As we might recall. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. 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. Milosz exultantly writes. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. . / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass.” “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. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation.” This distinction between truth and lie.” There is the earthly gold. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. and only describes what he has seen. when Milosz addresses us directly.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. mute as lead. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. of love and of wrath. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances.” Simply that. he calls us to the celestial gold. . as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. a revelation. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . of blessing and of desolation. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. . Adam. is the “key to the world of light. he implicates us in the poem. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. 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. muet comme le plomb.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. At such points. for as he told us before. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. or in Milosz’s words. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. he tells us. And so it is here. . as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word).
[I am always in the same place. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. the only one situated. Milosz muses on his early poetry. hideous. for that matter. and looked behind him. Milosz writes. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence.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. In the concluding lines of the canticle.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. we find a spiritual corporeality.” an “eternity of horror. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. chaste archetypes. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg.” “immense. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. and is the province of those who speak pure language. of those who speak pure language. le seul situé. rather.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. hideux. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. “the Father of Ancients.”15 Here we find.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. / played with me as a father with his child. wise. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. delirious. this immense.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood.]” Then one day.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. Milosz tells us.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. Thus.]”16 See.” “the world of profound. différent.” those “lands of nocturnal din.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. and a kind of corporeality of language. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. Luciferic brain].” We might recall that the mirror. different. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . / étant dans le lieu même. innocent. in theosophic tradition.” and “marrow of iniquity.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. of light and darkness. and this is the “solar egg. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror.” selfknowing. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. / being in place itself.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. but “great trials of negation. in the visionary writings of Böhme. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. not light and serenity of recognition.” just as in so much of Western esotericism.
I touch your brow. innocents! [The parents sleep there. et pour nos trois jours à venir. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself.” replies Beatrix. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. but refers to an inner alchemy.” is unquestionably alchemical. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. This poem.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. and clothed with the sun. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. Beatrix. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. Qu’ils sont beaux. je te touche le front.]” . but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. [1775–1802]). at its end. to “tender metal partners in marriage. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. and for our three days to come. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. “Master. and his Hymns to the Night. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience.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. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. between the lightworld and the darkworld. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. Thus the canticle. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. [Dear child. tendres métaux époux.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. and since we have now known one another seven years. tender metal partners in marriage. again three times. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. 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. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. let us make the sign. by the grace of inner vision. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. is especially of interest to us here. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. trois vois—le signe. you speak the truth.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. le signe! [seven times for the past.
woman. 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.” not only references to the alchemical furnace.” sinks to the depths. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. white and pale blue. He opens his eyes and is reborn. “I see only one. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. [My chains of constellations are broken. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. and to its incantory language. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. you liberate yourself.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. partaking rather of a heightened. of course. Beatrice.]”21 It is. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. yellow. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. and “Lumière de l’or. I tell you. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. is reborn!” Thus once again. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. The Master forgives me. tu te délivres. charity. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. charitée. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. Beatrix. “I believe it is. any more than are those of the adept. leaden and lachrymal. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. [It is life liberated. and black.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. The adept watches. [Light of gold. The woman in the poem. And in the conclusion of the poem. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. but the adept replies. The alchemical .]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation.” while the “oil of blind corruption. he comes back to life.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée.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.
Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. At the same instant. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. rests in a horizontal position. after all.” The line is the fourth verse. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. . Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. by Milosz. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is.” a “faithful and pious narrative. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. one senses vast expanses around one. as unemotional as nature. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. by a metallic red-hot egg. is also to participate in it. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem.: initiate].M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. or rather. 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. The incantory. then? Undoubtedly. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. 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 what it reveals. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve.” and that “In the author’s mind. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. the large cloud vanishes. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. 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. a light appears. in other words. perfectly awake. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. oneself.
It is perhaps useful. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. referring to the reader as “my son.”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. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. moving up a little. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. Such experience is of the truly situated. though including many great poets. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. just as he ignores and despises that world.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. And authentic literature. 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.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. he is among the most erudite of poets. He insists that in order to understand. at this point. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. on which it alights like a crown. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. Without question.23 There is still more. thereafter. Milosz . we must bow down. its secular hedonism and materialism. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. that. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. its brutal mass wars. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. because it springs from this archetypal reality. and in this there is a kind of reversal. one may even say. becomes rounder. scientifically. meaning the archetypal realm. yet his erudition. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. stands still. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull.
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. 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. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. Swedenborg. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. the mystical eighteenth century. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. Swedenborg. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. Eugène Ledrain. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star].”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.” 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. sought in them peace of spirit. from Egypt up to today. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism.” and .” Milosz continued. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. the School of Alexandria. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. Martinez de Pasqually. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. alias René Descartes.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. Plato.” where he writes of how “shade covers An-Dor and / Pau of the land of Esau covers Matred Tolde Beith / Aram and all Spared of Judea. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. passing through the Pre-Socratics. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages.”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. [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. Claude de Saint Martin.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini.
for instance. S.” in fact. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. if we may coin a word. inside the books of life and of knowledge. R.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. the universal regent of faith.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. as early as 1919. it is not books that we are waiting for. King of the unified world. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. the visionary poet. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. Eliot. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity.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. In his “Poem of the Arcana. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge.” which are far more extensive than anything T. and Savoy. and books. 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. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. Joseph de Maistre. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. Milosz held. Under the heading “Hiram. my son. Germany. in 1938. Hiram. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. Here. 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. Le Forestier. King of the Unified World. words. and the true poet. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. 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 . drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. 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. in short. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. wrote for his poetry. science. . and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. . . and art. the books open themselves to him.
was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well.’ announce their impending appearance. like spirit and matter. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. the times foreseen by Guillaume 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. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. aspire to holy unification.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. as we have seen.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. relatively not distant.”32 Here. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. “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. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. he brings in the theme that. like all the continents and all the states of this world. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. Religion and science. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. Indeed. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore.”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. who announced a coming millennium. especially the dream of a world utopia.34 And Milosz goes on to ask.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. He writes that “Today. alias René Descartes.” Here. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising.
being the Christ-figure. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. in his letter to James Chauvet. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. for instance. In his work. of course.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. not to say grandiosity. the “science of the divine. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. among them its ritual dress. the sciences. For us. I am the enemy of exteriorization. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale).”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics.” And in his little esoteric group.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. . the other members being his apostles. Milosz wrote. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. and scientific fusion. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). de Lubicz. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. as we have seen. but explicitly Christian. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name.”39 These dreams of universality. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. author of The Magus. with a white collar. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk.”38 Such a group. sought the widest possible range. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. and that he deliberately. moral or social. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). religious. of political. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. The Master alone will wear a red cap. in his work as in his private life. and the arts via religion. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. Our group will have no more than twelve members. however. And there are numerous other such examples. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique.
— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. S. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. magic. we . the Tarot. little studied in academe. through his writing. Lewis. Rosicrucianism. the poet H. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. today. and a new golden age. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. Indeed.’s life and interests. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. but also for the universality of his aims.’s poetry. numerology. There are. of course. Charles Williams. D. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. novels. which outlines the intertwining of H. and Milosz. D.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. a relatively obscure figure. and Kathleen Raine. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies.. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. That H. 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. D. and essays.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. psychic insights or visions. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. D. Indeed. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. but toward the future. However. H.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. In these efforts. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. astrology. C. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. D. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. D. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. not toward the present. Here. D. Although we here will take our leave of them. Like Prospero in his final speech.
I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. We should begin. by recognizing that H. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. mind. For it seems clear from her poetry. D. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. D. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. D..” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. D. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. Notes is a very unusual work. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. astrology. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. like H. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. But when we begin to look at H. In Esoteric Origins.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. for H. a cap of consciousness .’s life it is repeated a number of times. Likewise. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. In his introduction to H. and on the other Margaret Fuller. D. D.”41 Although the major works by H. D.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening.’s early. D. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919).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. D. H. as many critics have observed. very much resembles both of them in certain respects..” Albert Gelpi writes that H. explicitly esoteric book. D. “The Thistle and the Serpent. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. overmind. however. Margaret Fuller. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. was fascinated by numerology. D. save that in H.
42 H. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. indeed. She writes that to be a true artist. I visualise it just as well. transparent. The two work separately. She places gnosis. a nonsectarian. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. contained in a defininte space. jelly-fish. or anemone. as primary to the true artist.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. . . she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. .” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. D. is a gnostic with a small g. syncretic . as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. my forehead.”43 H.” The minds of the lovers unite. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. D. 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. D. one must. H. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. She does write about a “vision of the womb. fluid yet with definite body. almost like two lenses. a musician. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. engage in a union of love and intellect.’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. or awakening into the overmind. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. D. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. a musician. perceive separately. affecting a little my eyes .”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. As we read on through Notes. now. D. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself.’s work has feminist implications. D. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. second is the life of the intellect. H. 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. which is possible for all. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. It is like a closed sea-plant. except through the intellect. yet make one picture. . That overmind seems a cap. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. H. and third is the awakening into the overmind. like water. Into that over-mind. Whatever else we may make of it.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. Without doubt.
” In “The Walls Do Not Fall.” “Tribute to the Angels. / it unlocks secret doors. .” mind “floundered. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. D.” H. H. In Notes on Thought and Vision. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy.” And the section ends with “illusion. / oneness lost.” “arrogance.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. E. this.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . and H. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious.”45 “Amen. is a false path. helpers / of the One. madness. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy.”48 All of this suggests that there is . over-confidence. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. Amen. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. D. seek further. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. D. devour. She writes “dare. . / here is the alchemist’s key. of the “alchemist’s secret. As a number of scholars have demonstrated.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. seek. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall.” H. D. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways.” In the next section. spell. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. D. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness.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. reversion of old values. D. boasting. All-father. the overmind being above it.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. for instance. as these entities are “healers. In this respect. too. she holds. dare more. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. Here.” we “nameless initiates.” and “The Flowering of the Rod.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. / companions / of the flame.47 In M.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension.” She writes.” here. pitiful reticence. unlocked. was lost in sea-depth. prayer” for healing. / born of one mother. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity.
/ rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. / in the light of what went before. cryptograms. too little: I know.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. / re-vivify the eternal verity. symbols of Psyche reborn.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. .” “invoke the true-magic. D.” . one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. but this. continues. she is calling herself to a sacred task. / lead us back to the one-truth. artful and curious. but also those who come after her. they are anagrams.”50 Here H. .51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. too little affirmation. devoid of life. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. “patron of alchemists. D. D. H. D. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. little boxes.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. The words themselves may resemble boxes. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past. too much. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H.’s invocation of Hermes.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. illuminate what came after. The next work in H. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies.” through painting or writing.” “candle and script and bell.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. D. conditioned to hatch butterflies . In a well-known passage. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. this. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. D. this passage suggests the complexity. H. then writes: We have had too much consecration. I feel the meaning that words hide.” whose “province is thought. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. this has been proved heretical. / inventive.”49 Thus. H.
in the high-altar of a ruined building.” but re-awakened.52 These lines reveal many layers. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. D. the conditions under which. how is it you come so near. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. like a ghost.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. the shattered glass of the past. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. so too can the poet be. the poet must “melt down and integrate. indivisible Spirit. H. reinvoked in a new form. and so too by implication can we be.” One must “reinvoke. we saw the tree flowering. H. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. after all. D. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . I testify. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. it was an ordinary tree. in an old garden-square. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. D. we entered a house through a wall. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. recreated by the poet. is attempting in her poetry here.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. saw. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. D. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. John. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). but whereas Rilke could not write during war. was writing these poems. H.
and even more overtly. In it. the next section is very important. D. and Trilogy in particular. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. nothing whatever. conveyed through the poetry. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. / it was a sign. / the darkness of ignorance. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. D. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. This experience. / it was the Holy Ghost—. it is happening everywhere.’s “Tribute to the Angels. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. 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. D. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. the flowering of the wood. symbol of Hermes. And this experience is gnosis. D. the divine feminine.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. alluded to. In this context.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. / .” This experience “was vision. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself.’s poetry.’s poetry in general. H. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine .’s vision. . Hence H. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. music could do nothing with it. with Saint Michael. H. D. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). is a gnosis of the word. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. D. In H. . but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable.
D.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. whether it is con- . and H. D.’s Trilogy. and the thief.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian.. right into the final poem. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. allied to Mercury also. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. brought into paradise with Christ. under her “drift of veils. for H. as we will see in more detail shortly. 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. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. the Bible.” “she carried a book. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. to her astonishment. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. the butterfly. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. the thief.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. And She is “Holy Wisdom.” 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. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate.” she of the Bona dea. who is also redeemed. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. D. in the context of the three poems together.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. D.” H. obviously.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. / out of the cocoon. Sophianic spirituality was in H.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. Hermes is the patron of the artist.’s own heritage. D. the scribe.” And She is also “Psyche. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift.” This refrain. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. D. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. Here it might be valuable to recall that H.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. was a baptized Moravian. the writer.” “Santa Sophia. D. Rather.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. / who did not forego our heritage” . she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. They are not. D. and that. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. She who has been seen “the world over.
Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. H. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. D. fear. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. D. H. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work.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. B.” all are interwoven here. Eve and Mary. of mysticism. complete with H. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. To understand this mysticism more fully.’s own notes. It is not surprising. like Eliot in his Four Quartets.” with the experience of Christ. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. S. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. D. What is more. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. I suppose.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. In her poetry. we must turn to The Gift. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. D. that until 1998. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). H. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. H. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. 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. D. Likewise. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. 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. however. Hermes and Christ. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. The Gift. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. Eliot and W.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. as in the original.
but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. D. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. H. was herself a baptized Moravian.” or Jedediah Weiss. Mysticism. Robinson. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. H. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. 1755). accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . Knapton. We can see the extent and depth of H. D. D. 1909). as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. itself. in the middle of the eighteenth century. especially those now housed at Yale University. . with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. had done her research. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. in her notes. make clear this distinction. . & P. H. In toto. it was in fact in her blood. 1753). was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. In other words. Rimius’s works. 1753). though I must confess. D. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. Rimius. and he was born in Bethlehem. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. H. Pennsylvania. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. Linde. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. D.”58 About such accusations. in . 1794). cited by H. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. D. “Old Father Weiss. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. D.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. 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. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. 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. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. D. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey.” of the “Arcana. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. Pennsylvania. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. her grandmother’s father.
is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative.”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. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. The Moravian Church. and its doctrines as representing a pure. there was no hint of this exoticism. referring to Father. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously.. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. D. to initiate the reader. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity.” She goes on: . is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. it does exist.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. D. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. . But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. Mother. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. Hilda. but also of the older poet H. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. and Son.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day.” H. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. 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. “you just stumble on it. 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. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome.. D. We were a small community. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. The novel. respected and highly respectable. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . into The Gift. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. in short. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. . conventionally the church. writes. D. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. D.
aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. The other bees have gone. I mean. in some aspects of the story. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. Hilda’s grandmother. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. A word opens a door . a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. considerably more of this theme to unpack. These spiritual mysteries are not. The word is like a bee-hive. later learning it means Island of Wounds). and even here in her narrative. as some scholars seem to think. That is how it is. Hilda surmises. D. . when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. Then am I for a moment . Island of Wonders. men play a greater role than women. indeed. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . But really “live” it. that is why it is so quiet. .” The first is when Mamalie.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. . we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter.” she told Hilda. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. Williams called a primula. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. I mean. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. cut on a wall at Karnak. Hilda is wondering if the word alone can serve as a means of initiation so that the spiritual mysteries of her heritage can be continued. “The Secret. .114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. Egyptian . but Hilda (and along with her. 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. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. A word opens a door. . Rather. it is what the novel does for H. this is the game I play. . these are the keys. “Christian had left the Secret with me. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. In chapter 5 of The Gift. But there is more. but there are no bees in it now. it is like that little flower that Mrs. the word stops. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?).
is not Europe but North America. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. done in their picture-writing. 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.63 In The Gift.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician.” not just Minne-ha-ha.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. so that “It was laughing. 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.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. had a name for. altogether. though. D.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.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. though. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. was to decide the future of the whole country . laughing all the time. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. indeed. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. it was the laughter of the water. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. kept in a birch-bark case. Mamalie continues. said Mamalie. the answer given by the Spirits.” This scroll. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality.62 Like the Templars. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. it is not a confabulation of H.” “the laughter of leaves. but all of them. According to Mamalie. of wind. Greek. . but this was untrue.’s. of snow swirling. this laughter that ran over us. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. This rapport is historically verifiable. She and her . bore the names of Cammerhof. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. Hebrew. in particular the Shawnee. Pyrlaeus. . “like scales running up and down. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians.
” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. having “burnt it up. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. D. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. At the novel’s conclusion. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. In her notes.” as “Aryan.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. . of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. said in her fragmented narrative. or Wounded Island.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. even refers to the American David Williamson. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. And yet in the very final passages. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. raining down terror from the skies. called “New Gnadenhütten. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. and then. in an even more attenuated form.” 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.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. decoded it and she played it.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. Christian Seidel. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. The Gift. domination. In 1755. Mamalie. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. 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. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. those hiding in the attic burned alive. so much so that she never played music again. Wunden Eiland. And in a subsequent event. who was to die at twenty-five. 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. H. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination.”69 The two worlds have become one.
she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. D. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. As we have seen.V. her work suggests that past. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. Among major twentiethcentury authors.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. D. H. Indeed.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. . past and present. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. there. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. In this context. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. In her poetry and fiction.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. H.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. the more deeply one looks into her works. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. not merely as decorations. D.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. But above all. present. 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. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. D. Her interest in spiritualism. both poetic and fictional. Likewise. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. H.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. H.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. one of the original Moravian initiates. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. but as integral to her work.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests.’s English present. In her profoundly ambitious works. and out of which all great work is generated. for instance. as well as of timelessness and time. singing of the Wounds. H. D. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. and future continually intermingle.
there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women.71 . meeting and parting. Elizabeth recalls him to her. legendary Provence. and its implications. D. and contemporary London. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. The Lucifer-Lilith. through her fiction and through her poetry. Mystery and a portent. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. but at the same time. D. but it was only in her later work that we see it. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. H. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. as Adam. Lilith.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. parted in the dark. may be Angel or Devil.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. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. although: I hardly knew my Lord.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. as history tells us. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. Vale Ave. in his pre-Eve manifestation. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. After his death. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. yes. dynastic Egypt. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. D. late Rome. through time—specifically. to be sure. true we had met in sudden frenzy. has the same root derivation as Seraph. outlined in entirety. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. whom we invoke as Lucifer. early seventeenth-century England. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. We cannot conclude without reference to H. H. the Light-bringer. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife.
but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction. 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. / infinity portrayed in simple things. Here.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. here again “the words laugh.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. I would like to explore not the art of magic. the “springs gone under the hill. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams. D. and the Scroll. taken in toto.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. Her poetry and her prose. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. Of course. 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.” 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. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” .” the mysteries of the holy well. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. .” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory.” and again through it “I had the answer. The dead are living still. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. as in poetry.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. “the Mystery. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift.’s lifetime of work. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. D.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. . 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. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. But then “From grotto grove and shrine.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. the Writing.” the holy presences withdraw. But my .73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life.
they will unmake all Middle Earth. as one might imagine. here. R. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. it remains distinct from the other two. “The Descent of the Gods. His main character.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). things are not nearly so clear cut. S. an alteration in the Primary World.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. J. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. “one who by his own will once opened it. fay or mortal. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. Magic produces. saying “I have become a bridge.” which might best be translated as “magic. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. R.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. Viritrilbia. R. it is not an art but a technique. S. invokes the Oyéresu. seems reasonable enough in theory.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. or pretends to produce.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. or Venus.” “Sir. C. and so forth. domination of things and wills. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside.” replies Ransom. the “true powers of Heaven. when we turn to actual works. R. Lewis. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. “That is why they will work only through a man. and the descrip- . he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. 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. Tolkien. and Charles Williams).” “Their naked power.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes.” says Ransom. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular.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. or Mercury. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. Here.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. yes. its desire is power in this world.” But later in the same essay. J.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. Let us take an example. C. John Ransom.
until his outraged senses forsook him. . They were blinded. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. were it possible. . In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. They could not bear that it should end. . brisk merriments. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. They thought it would burn their bones. In the beginning of the chapter. . .”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. and the Blue Room. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. sticky gums . They could not bear that it should continue. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. In this chapter. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. ready to kill. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. bright and ruthless. and then comes the goddess: “fiery.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. sharp. where the invocation has its center. calling down the powers.”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. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale.” the narrator tells us. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. They experience “needle-pointed desires. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. scorched. here. ready to die. .” “He would have known sensuously. in which none other than the ancient . where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. 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.” Merlin and Ransom tremble.”80 It is not really possible. outspeeding light: it was Charity . “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . 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 . “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. deafened. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. unmitigated. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. sweet-scented and full of desire.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. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. . .
”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. Anne’s. Therefore . In other words. “Obviously it was high time she went in. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. one with ordinary people. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. The invocation takes place.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. 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. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. she sees that clothes are piled inside. and one with Merlin and Ransom). This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. In so doing. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events.” the seventeenth chapter. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. About Williams’s novels. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. 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. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. though one could easily imagine it so. and the Director (Dr. in a “secondary world” of fiction. and by its end. of course.
in fact. On the other hand. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. . such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. for instance. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. and decidedly corrupt ones. and how therefore the reader is in . to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. one is also encountering new realms of existence. they reveal forms of necromancy. For that. still Williams’s fiction is still by and large of a different kind from the specifically magical fiction that we saw in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. they unveil the power of archetypes and. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. 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. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. By doing so. In effect they are initiations. I am afraid.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . Who and what is Lilith. for in the act of reading. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. [Emphasis added. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. I wrote it. . to find out what it was about.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. and her observations are revealing. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. I have put a great deal into it. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work.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. [Emphasis added. not find it very entertaining. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. almost cathartic effect. It was not written for its entertainment value. in general. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. 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 had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. putting my cards on the table. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. The magic worked. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. but Fortune was. appears clearly in her novels. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. which is the dark side of the Moon. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. She gave rise to the character Lilith. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. badly lit and ill-tended room. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. In some respects. not surprisingly. after all. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. 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. that is to say. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. and imagined myself speaking to him. untidy. like all of her . a shabby. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. the side She turns away from earth. who is Moloch. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. for it is effectual. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice.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. and I seemed to be in a strange room. Fortune’s novel. magicians call it magic. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. I made the astral projection by the usual method. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. In the novel’s seventh chapter. 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. It does not matter to me what it is called. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events.
.” 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. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. After his entry into the Unseen. Marius. a fellow named Fouldes. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes).” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. Rhodes. I had passed over into the Unseen. for. Not only were they alive. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. but perhaps most interestingly.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. 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. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. The Secrets of Dr. one will recall. Rhodes. 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. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. a young woman named Ursula .”85 And so the book concludes. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. Taverner. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. like Taverner. As a character. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. I was no longer alone. but I shared in their life. Holmes. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. to “enter the Unseen. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. and many others. Thus Rhodes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. for I was one with them . a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. at the end of the story. “in all things there was a profound difference. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. was consummately the logician. . Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction.
He was experienced in dealing with such things. but then Murchison. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. among them men named Frost and Wither. cold and merciless. Yet paradoxically. Of the two books. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay.’ ‘Yes.’ Brangwyn concluded. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. ‘Well. an experienced magician. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. . The strange. In That Hideous Strength. ‘so that’s that. a change came over the atmosphere of the room.’ said Brangwyn. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. and in another moment the room was empty . dropping into a chair as if exhausted. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). . breaking the embarrassing silence.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. like Astley in The Winged Bull. . But there was nothing he could do for the other two . a bear of a man. they are without morality. and. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. Then. . Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. and her half-brother. but also logically. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. The girl he could do nothing for. banked and double-banked. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. suddenly. . they were getting it in the neck.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. pure selfishness. there are also depraved black magicians. Frost and Wither are without mercy.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels.’ replied Murchison. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. ‘That is very much that.
85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. But Charles Williams and even C.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s.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. There is. either alone. In all of the fiction we are considering here. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. or with the help of an initatory. 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. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. experience of magic. Taverner. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. Whether or not a disciple has a master. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life.90 . he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. 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. and Fortune. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. powers both good and evil. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. S. . helped by appropriate texts. Lewis. in this kind of fiction. and thanks to that. . Williams. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen.
For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. then.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening.” What conclusions can we draw. Indeed. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. since in the fiction we have been discussing. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. 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. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life.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.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. thoroughly real. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. .”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. 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. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. In fact. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. if we may so put it. active imagination is essential. Williams. Finally. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. Third. Such a tension corresponds. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. Second. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. in literary form.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. 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. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades.” and thus to written works like novels.
. Theosophic illustrations in particular. and his writings reveal in detail his . such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. indirectly or directly. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. 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. and that like his contemporary poet. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. but also in Böhmean theosophy. As we have already seen. there remain fundamental differences. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. in the sense of Rilke. Collins was a gifted aphorist. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. transcendent and perhaps. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. higher aspects of nature and humanity. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. which is why I have chosen to study them together. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). E. 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. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. Thus. 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. 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. angelic realm. Still. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. an important and genuinely original British painter. held in London’s Tate Gallery. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. but with the publication of this book. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989.
and this from a comparatively early period in his work. Denies the artist. of his solitary walks in the countryside. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. But you exist.” 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. I remember you. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. I long for my race. the human being. In “Hymn of Life. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. is imbued always with spiritual significance.95 In 1965. to come to fruition. Totnes. denies all who have inward fruit. But deep underneath flows the secret stream.’ must make intellectual connections individually. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . for he must ‘leap the gaps. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. 1945. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. 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. [14 January. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. for Collins. Our time denies. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. he writes: O holy ones I long for you.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. we are all exiles.” Ordinary life in the natural world. and I know nothing. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. the contemplative. A winter of the spirit is over all society. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. I know of your existence. I long for my kingdom. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art.” or again. But here I wander. and my life with you. of all that which desires to give. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. A frustration of all that which is growing.
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. but only by rapport with those worlds. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. and the making of money. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. 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[. awaken this inner rapport in us.97 Works of art. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking.] 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. . to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. by measurement or analysis. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness.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. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. This is the same thing actually. The value of the artist is not to decorate. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. the meaning. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. For like answers to like and creates actualization . The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. . by description. in Collins’s view. It can only be known by inner nuance.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. . they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. rapport.
in Collins’s view.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. We are all apt to fall asleep. the unveiling of the atom. we have communion with it[. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. But there is something else that has to be opened.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. he writes. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead.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[. . religious. spiritu- . canonical religions and ritual. the opening of man’s inner nature. the elements. we have no canonic culture of our own. the answer comes back to us from within them. of mere desires. and what is more. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed.” In his final remarks. in a “time of the apocalypse.” 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. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. We live. canonic language. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. rocks. ‘Everything that lives is holy. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. widened. in Collins’s view. his inner world. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. it becomes qualitative. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. . in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality.’ In other words. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. In the past. and transmuted.98 The work of art. and that is the eye of the heart. trees.
and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. not afraid to wound the heart. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. To gaze at this painting is to . and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. a union of figure. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). landscape. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. an active support. her head bent back and contemplative. too. the one with the sword. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. landscape is transformed as well. like “Angels” (1948). by patterns on the limbs and torso. to the left the orb of the sun. make it bleed. such as “The Invocation” (1944). 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. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. and vibrant color. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. and the other with the light. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. In many of his later paintings. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings.” 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.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. to the right a human figure with a sweeping robe that looks as though it rises out of the earth exactly as does the hill behind it. as in many of his visionary paintings. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. Here. in “The Invocation. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. Many of these images have a strange. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. hieratic quality. dreamlike. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. but that is uplifting and paradisal. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. Often. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. the figures’ eyes are opened.
to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. Here. But Collins offers these through visual images. or altar. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity..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. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). in Collins’s view. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. a world between us and it. In all of these works. In this respect.’ sacred images. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. he is like very few other painters. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. but central. Divine Reality. H. that like Milosz. In another book. his drawings. D. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. so that God becomes a table. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. and poems that illuminate his paintings. by which we make contact with reality through images . Collins wrote in this book..” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. but also essays. aphorisms. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. 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. and indeed. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. . he offers through his paintings. And it is also clear. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. D. we then have ‘sacred space. Lost paradise and . Poems. Indeed. as in the works of Milosz and H. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. . Meditations. not least because his work includes not only images. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. like an electrical transformer. chair. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves.
as a means of transmitting knowledge. but rather. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. science. or mere entertainment. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. and the via negativa. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. or way of negation. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. for instance. It is. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. First. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. what we find is in fact the via negativa. For in our overview of Western esotericism. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. although they may contain an element of play. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. of course. Thus our third point: that . Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. the way of images and forms and transformations. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. as Dionysius himself points out. Strictly speaking. these are the themes of these great artists. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. to the conjunction of spirituality. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. or way of affirmation. and the arts in written form. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. and awakening gnosis. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression.
an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. the divine. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. chemistry. In modern education. there is only the division between self and other. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. But in Western esoteric traditions. ‘third element. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. between the human and natural realms. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art.’ quantifiable knowledge. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. and so on. plant extracts. on the other hand.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. and the divine. sometimes called by Böhme the . alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. Here is the essential division between a modern. hidden. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. between humanity and the cosmos. the cosmos. sociology. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. Rather. Ideas.’ the divine.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. In a modern worldview. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. psychology. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. geology. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. history. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. Western esoteric traditions. and there is sheer transcendence. And Western esoteric literature. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. or Symbols. works only by reference to this third element. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. D.
theosophy. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. often seen as androgynous. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. and by others the Nothing. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. but nothing. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. by definition a ‘seer. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. a divine mathematics. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. a mythologist. For the purpose of such literature is. or Fullness. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. and a chemist. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. This archetypal realm. an artist. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. and his fall from paradise. first. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. we find a divine art and a divine science. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. the absolute unity of subject and object. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. a theologian. or any of the other major esoteric currents. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. biology. and literary expression. alchemy. Rosicrucianism. The artist. meaning by that not absence. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. In brief. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. Thus the artist. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. The aim of the esoteric . In all of these traditions. is in fact prophetic. Adam. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. in this worldview. in order to create. for all three of these poets. cosmology.
. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. Rosicrucian. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. author of The Magus. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. even from a single letter. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. the language of creation itself. and notarikon. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. temurah. and Masonic illustrations. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. Hence. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. where it arguably sparked the entire . for instance.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. magical. In this perspective. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. an alchemist. 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. contains some secret of wisdom. which is to say.’”102 Likewise. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. whether a Kabbalist. theosophic. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. pansophic. and indeed as Yeats pointed out.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. almost always denoting divinity. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. Such a myth of universal fall and restoration also implies that behind the Babel of modern human languages lies a universal language that belongs to paradisal humanity. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. 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. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. a theosopher. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . or a pansoph. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. .
” or the “Book of Revelation. it may be the “Book of Nature. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. certainly it may be the Christian . seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. 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. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. and especially of written language and of the book.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. magic. Social Realism. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. theosophy. and Masonry. 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. Futurism. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history.’ and this is not necessarily so. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism.104 Obviously. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. . consequently. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language.” or the “Book of Life”. generally speaking . following the various currents through Kabbalism. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. . influenced much of modern Russian literature. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. 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. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. when surveying the various esoteric currents.
where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. or nonexistent. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. much less in Christianity specifically. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. Indeed. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. and Geber. interrupted. or in Buddhism. In Hinduism or Buddhism. 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. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. but rather relied upon the written word. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. Hermes. and so on back into antiquity. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. However. 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. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. and what is more. where the tradition . but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. Even in the case of alchemy. Given our overview. 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. for instance. or masters. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. 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. Islam. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. and indeed even farther back. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. which indeed still finds them audiences today. gurus.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.
writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. These illustrations. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. naturally.’ a means of conveying ‘information. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. when we look at the writing of Milosz. By contrast. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. who. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. are not simply decorations. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. have been adorned with copious illustrations. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. but who rather offered the world only written works. Such evocation is. to some future initiate in a far century. initiatory. Milosz. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. Indeed. whatever one . particularly the works of Böhme.’ or ‘data’. Somehow. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. in addressing this far-off “son. of course. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different.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. And one recalls the Rosicrucians.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. and in particular at its strange. Such a view of the written word is. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. dreamlike language and imagery. 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. In modern parlance. Let us take another example. but . Christian theosophic literature. One thinks here. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. hieratic. often strikingly beautiful. I believe. for in all cases. V Milosz. That is to say. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. may think of his poetry. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. of Abraham Abulafia. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect.
of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. that is. in other words. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. and flower in the reader too. grow. does have an initiatic function—that is. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. What is more. the dark-world of hell. for instance. and over time those seeds can take root. Such an illustration. by gazing at such an image. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. the lightworld of paradise. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. represented by a cross. which refers to . I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. so there is no need here to repeat myself. In my view. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. In this way. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. reaping. I use the term ahistorical continuity. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical.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. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. Rather. through the turbulence of earthly life.” or Wisdom. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. pansophic. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. it is more immediate and visceral. marked also “Sophia. tending. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. Taken together. Obviously. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. theosophic.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. For instance. This metaphor—of sowing.106 To explain this phenomenon.
This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. Such a reader joins with the author. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. and are in earnest. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. Such a paradigm can be reawakened.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. if you wish to use this little book aright. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. it can reëmerge in another. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. Thus. and who have a desire to begin. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. After all. .’ 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. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. . 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. instead. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. Perhaps. or a biology textbook. leave untouched the precious Names of God . I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. for example. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. as I am suggesting. Here. you truly will know its worth. Naturally. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. If. one might even say impossible. this function must be a change in consciousness. the daily news. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit.
which it sees as divine. to become a channel for the divine current.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. 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. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. and experience the divine directly.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it.”107 Or again. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious.” “Be rightly warned. and become not its own possession. Then that thing. and for when one rises. a prayer for noon. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. one automatically is caught in delusion. he tells us. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself.” or objectified realm. but. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. the source from which they emerge. and second. in his “Warning to the Reader. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. . this objectifying delusion.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. and a prayer before sleep. but the “instrument of God. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. a prayer for washing and dressing. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin.” If on the one hand. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. a prayer for one’s daily work. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. not by merely mouthing the words. and so on for the entire week. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. it walks in its own delusion. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. or has knowledge-of. a prayer for the evening. judgemental consciousness.
the origin not only of language. love and wrath. between the divine and the natural. In this sublime unity there is no congealing into an objectified self-other division—through paradox and enigma is expressed the sheer transcendence out of which emerges the dazzling archetypal realm. or subject and object. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. Above. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. or the divine eye that sees itself. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. as we have seen. there is no sense of separation between self and other. or divided from the divine. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. There emerges a spacious or open quality. conversely. Indeed. or perceiver and what is perceived. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. in Western esotericism generally. in the archetypal realm there is . where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. where. at the far limit of what we can express in language. although there are divisions between archetypes. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. the light and the dark.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 145 not even in relation to the divine. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. For language is in its innermost nature divine. Here we are. the self in one sense continues to exist. There is simply awareness. the yes and the no. In other words. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. then language must reflect this division. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. just as. but of the cosmos itself. in other words. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. divine in its origin. we have the point of origin. in that there remains an observer. of course. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. as are nature and humanity.
and the divine. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. or separation into self and other. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. Undoubtedly.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. in these esoteric traditions. but never owned. During this . and the participatory. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. For Western esotericism. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. for after all. consumerist state was built from a materialist. the divine is perforce unmentionable. The massive machine of the modern technological. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. 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. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. and so forth. secular. in modern literary theory or theories of language. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. and objectified worldview. But by the late twentieth century. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. or manifest more indirectly in literature. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. secular. Language. By contrast. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. which is rife with the language of objectification. suppression. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. nature. 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. transformative. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet.
But to begin to explore this new. to name only a few. including elements of the sciences. after all that we have surveyed. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. of awakening latent. 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. in particular. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. 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. profound connections between humanity. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. in theosophic works. and the arts. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. but also for society itself. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. too. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. As we have seen throughout this study. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. If so. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. magic or theosophy. which is to say. L I T E R AT U R E . but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. To this we now turn. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. nature. the Lullian art. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. scientific or otherwise. Buddhism. religion. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. at least for some. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. troubadours and chivalry. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. A R T. psychology. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. inner territory. and the divine. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us.
found throughout Western history. to write presupposes already having seen. In his book Song and Its Fountains. 1867–1935). It may be of use. and the divine. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. The poet’s psyche. In this view. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. he tells us.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. as the seers tell us.”111 Unconscious of creation. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. But A. . beyond history. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. In this esoteric view of literature. and indeed. . nature. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. joys. 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 . The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. A. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. (George William Russell. To use Plato’s metaphor. E. not the life of shadows. A. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. .148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. E. rejoicings. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. E. Naturally. at this juncture. he simply began to murmur line after line. Indeed. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. images. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. E. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. 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. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. as we have seen. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. A. a friend of Yeats. to turn to a poet. ascends to “that high state where. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. but of reality. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union.
A. Yeats. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound.” he wrote.” Thus. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. the poet. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. and after that images. E.”114 A far exile from that glory. from a descent after an ascent. but of the universal spirit he understood little. There was neither sight nor sound. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. even if unaware of precisely how or why.”115 He understood something of 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. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. gone inward into itself. the creation of poetry in A. it draws nigh to its own divine root. A.” he wrote. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. 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. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. A. later discussed with W. A. E. looks upon the poet as a prophet. E. E. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. perhaps surprisingly. E. “I have. was later translated into words. though too often they have not kept faith . B. E. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. but all was a motion in deep being. Yet A. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. analyzes the movement of consciousness.”117 For this reason. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. and song. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration.” Although he struggled to remain in this state.”113 This movement of consciousness A. recognized his limits.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. E. “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. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision.”116 Still.
thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. they come “trailing clouds of glory. . and imbued with this new visionary understanding. the further we come out of the animal Nature. the view of literary creation that A. E. 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.” The psyche. Thomas Bromley. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. when it becomes truly self-conscious. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. A. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. for instance. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. without knowing it. In Christian theosophy. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. characters they had never met in life. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. E.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. But at times they still receive the oracles. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. in that solitude we may meet multitude. E. 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. as did the sybils of old. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. And A. . or division into self and other. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. In essence. . though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. may.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . Throughout our investigations. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. when we seem most alone. E. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. and they wove into drama or fiction.” 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. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification.”121 These insights of A. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650).
and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. symbols. E. But nonetheless. or drama. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. fiction. in between both author and reader. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. in A. for instance. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. a novel. and to one another in the Internal. In Bromley’s case. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. and taken on a kind of life of its own. in the latter case. In this realm. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. Likewise. the poet is more like a receiver.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. passive. by A. One experiences great bliss. Of course. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. more powerful. We are carried along on the words of the author. and between the models that they represent. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. which no earthly Distance can hinder. and experiences. the author also is not directly present. absorbed completely in a book. takes place on a field midway between audience and author.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. and nearer both to Heaven. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. and so requires our sympathetic participation. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . the book or work has been separated from its writer. E. as if we knew them as neighbors. For who. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. In the first case. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. which later emerge in poetry. irrespective of time or distance—and A.’s case. events. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. there also is participation in what is observed. as if by happenstance. Reading. E. where. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. and we must. like theater. say. and the world is shot through with light. on the other a visionary poet. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. or of Captain Ahab. One becomes what one sees. although there is still an observer and what is observed. at least temporarily.
our authors tell us. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. Perhaps. playing for keeps. symbolizes eternal conditions. in alchemical work. but eventually puts the book down. 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 difference. whereas the esotericist is. drama. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. presumably. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. By contrast. habitual self is gone. and one enters into the new birth. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. and one has entered a new world. for example. 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. For when a reader engages in a literary work. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. Ordinary. one turns away from the painting. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. or to have it stricken. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. existing in a supraphysical dimension. magic is real. And indeed. We see this in the Book of Revelation. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. fiction. Of course. and in Kabbalistic practice. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. 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. we might reverse the terms. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. and books. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. 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. of course. the visions of the theosophers are real.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. writing. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. . essays.
But fundamental questions remain. the Kabbalist. fiction. Nicholas . perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. is to attain paradisal immortality. but what came into existence through him. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. Ramon Lull. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. Yet at the same time. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. and may even connect profoundly with each other. their works like second nature. Johannes Tauler. Abraham Abulafia. Secret Societies. so too is the author. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. gnostics. lives on. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. the alchemist. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. Jacob Böhme. John Pordage. Meister Eckhart. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. If a primary aim of the alchemist. in the process of creating a fictional world. but there is much more to be done. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. the Kabbalist. or Kabbalists—by self-election. R. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. Jane Leade. the literary work. the gnostic. R. Thomas Bromley. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence.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.
These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. to in Emerson’s words. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. In what could be considered the summation of his thought—the book The Beginning and the End—Berdyaev discusses the immense significance of Jacob Böhme’s concept of the Ungrund for religion and philosophy. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. 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. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. and consciousness. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. and indeed even God himself. but in every case. to be guided by the author. moreover. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. 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). emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew.” It may well be. the author is reaching out.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. In being. taken together. esoteric or not. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. 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. in the . therefore. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. Berdyaev tells us. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. precedes all being. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. for as I have discussed elsewhere. “add it to his own arsenal of power. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. literature. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity.124 The Ungrund. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism.
This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life.” and “is the beginning of a different world. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. It is knowledge.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. and especially on the . Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. or to put it another way. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. particularly the arts of literature. issues from existential eternity. the artist. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. “it is an end of this world. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. of creativity. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. As Berdyaev points out. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. a different sort of knowledge. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new.” 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. Nishitani Keiji. fictional. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. and therefore of division. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. “Creative activity. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. and its expression in human creativity.
for faced with nihility. . so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. Nishitani. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. and us from them. What . This intensifies our narcissism.”128 True emptiness. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. and has the effect not of separating. and indeed. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. egoistic mode of being. or perhaps better still. . . self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. or rather in unison. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. what is the same thing. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. self-identically. Nishitani affirms. self-centered consciousness. emerges authentic freedom. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. The force of destiny is at work here. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. or “true emptiness. the choices of the will.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. As rational or personal beings. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. While this is our own act. . in other words. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. This is the field of shunyata.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . .”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. is beyond definition. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. that is. it is not something we are free to do as we please . of course. Out of this transcendence alone.” Authentic freedom is. “an equality in love. one retreats into self even further. or the emptiness of all things.” an “absolute openness. . In Nishitani’s work. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. As we have seen throughout this study. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility.
Paradoxically. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. seen as a whole. The Western esoteric traditions.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 157 appears to be other—the cosmos and the divine—turns out in this process of revealing the fundamental self-other unity to be in fact indivisible from our inner nature. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. . joined together with one another.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. for all their diversity. anything that can be read or written. have at their center this mystery of the word. so Western esotericism suggests. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. as the sense of self and other diminishes. with nature.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. But in any case. a calling toward what we are meant to be. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. It can lead us. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. language is indeed divine. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. We read and are read. political. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. including paintings. or even linguistic construction. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. write and are written.
esoteric.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. a Dutch scholar. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill.aseweb.org. 1994). ed. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. see Antoine Faivre. See www. 3. See Arthur Versluis.msu. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. much of it in French. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. For an overview of Western esotericism. 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. See Steven Katz. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents.edu. the official Web site of the ASE. mostly by North American scholars. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. including Wouter Hanegraaff. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www.. See Hanegraaff. The State University of New York Press series of books in Western esotericism edited by David Applebaum also represents an important contribution to this field. in this field. See also the journal Esoterica [www. 159 .msu. 5.edu ] for articles. Faivre. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. 2. ibid.esoteric. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. 4. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1992).
8. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. Dreams. p. 5. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. 151. 1986).. CHAPTER TWO 1. 1973). Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. 2000). Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 140. p.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. 1991). pp. 145. Paul: Grail. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. 4. See Faivre.. See Frederick Goldin. E. Paul: Paragon House. Peers. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. 51–89. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. 9. John Pordage. 1863). 1974). Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. Gnosis and Literature (St. 2. p. 1999). 4. op.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. eds. See Gershom Scholem. 180. 2000). Sophia. 37 ff. 2. p. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone.. Jean La Fontaine. p. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. whether they know it or not. 1992). 1978). 6. pp. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. 76–106. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. Victor Sogen Hori. Translation is mine. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. CHAPTER ONE 1. p. pp. p. p. 111. 1996). 307. 11. 7. 18 ff. 10. pp. . See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. 3.. 10–15. see also Scholem. Nag Hammadi Library. 309. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 1965). pp. in Arthur Versluis. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. pp. ed. Paul. cit. Paul: Grail. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. 1975). pp. 223. See Versluis. trs. See Charbonneau. See Versluis. Ramon Lull.. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. Myths. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 219–233. Ibid. 13. 14–21. 2000).. 97. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. Paragon House. 14. 12. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. p. pp. 83 ff. Mircea Eliade. 3. 248. See ibid. pp. (London: Sheldon. Nag Hammadi Library. See Arthur Versluis. 5. See. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same.
. 35. 1983). p.. A.. Tristan. 20. 1961). I. 29. I. trs. p. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. p.312. cit. 394. p. 197. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ibid. 30. ed. 57. 29. p. Gershom Scholem. See J.77. 19. . Dan. Ibid. See. I. 9. 24. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.320–323. 1779). Cassirer.314. see also Scholem.. 25.. I. 18. 1988). II. Joseph Blau.75. p. II. 36. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. 101–102. C. pp. 26. See Pico della Mirandola.. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. Ibid. 28. Doctor Illuminatus.. See Scholem. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (London: Soncino. 7. See Arthur Edward Waite. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. see also Moshe Idel. 37. Simon. Cassirer. 1984). 1965). Ibid. 38. Ibid. 1992).. 1964). 12. 27. 8.351. Zohar IV . 246. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. p. 51. 15.. 1979). 250. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. Ibid. 32. ed. 1969). et al.325. trs. 197.205b–206a. op.B.. 52. I. (Hildesheim: Olms.331..76. p. 33.71. p. p. p. 14. See Moshe Idel. op..80 ff.. for instance. See A. II. Ibid. and Françoise Secret. 57. Origins. IV . The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. 270. M. Scholem. 280. eds. ed. II. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. ed. 1987). 66. 34. Opera omnia. See Verman. 1986). Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. 11. in The Zohar. 16. Origins. Ibid.. Twersky. 59. p. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. p.205b. cit.. p. 1953) I. Origins. Bonner.C. p... Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. p.. I.. 278. 49–50.. Ibid. 1985). cit.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. 31. See Verman. See Mark Verman. 21. pp. 22. Vasoli. I. 61.. 10. ed. op. 17. 23. 13. 298 ff.. p.
for the reader’s convenience. 62. Ibid. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. 1998). 1975).102–104. p. Ashmole. 52. Secret Societies. See Versluis. a cosmologist. der gantzen weiten welt . For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. I. See. p. 1972).. p... Ibid. Ibid. for text. Ibid. 251. 255. I. 46. p.. Confessio. 260. 1966). Ibid.. Ashmole. 55. diss. forthcoming. p. 246. 50. 58. Theatre of the World. and even chart them astrologically.. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. 1988). 40. I have translated this work of Pordage. p. and others. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. 41. 238. Josten. M. 44. . Hall. 242. See Frances Yates. 47.. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph.. p. Resicrucian Enlightenment. 43.. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . Fama. 129. p.M. William Huffman. table of contents. 253. Ibid. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. op. p. From von Welling. p. 49. 57. 59. 1999). 1784). a musician. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. Ibid. Ibid. See Josten. University of Texas at Austin. 45. The following page references are to Yates.. 257. C. ed.A.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. ed. 63. Confessio. 42. p. 1971).A. 371. p. 48. . p. p. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. Freemasonry. (Cassel: Wessel. ms. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. 37. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652.681. Fama. and also written an extensive commentary on it. 53.M. Ibid. p. Ibid. 22. p. See.. including two physicists. Ibid. 61. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. see Donald Dickson.77. 252. See also Marsha Schuchard. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. 1997). See Versluis. II. 51.. 60. 49. Yates. The Alchemy of Art. H. Ibid. cit.D. Fama. Fama. a theologian. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. for background. . 1615).O.. Confessio. (Cassel: Wessel. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. 241. p. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. Frances Yates.. 67. See Versluis. Confessio. 220.. D. . 77. p.. 56. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. in a group called the Round Table. Ibid.P. . 221. p..O. 54.
Freemasonry. 253. 7. ed.. and Margaret Bailey. 110. Hugh Trevor-Roper. V de L. 65. 11. pp. 170–171. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. 1992). citing B. 1992). It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. 71. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. Ibid. 1967). 256. See James Anderson. . M. D. 191. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. see Versluis. On Emerson and Hermeticism. op.. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. 257–272. See also Schuchard. 69. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. p. Milosz. changes. 4. E. O. 1997). p. 247–249. (London [Philadelphia]: B. 1926). 172–173. pp. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. Sloane. 3. 2001). ed. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. Warlick. 1997). 414. 67. p. p. see also Max Ernst. cit. pp. 6. See Edmond Mazet. 268. M. Ibid. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. H. p. pp. 39. 170–171.. p. 8. and Albert Cherél. See also Bernard Fay. Ibid.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. Franklin. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. 66–67. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. p. p. . Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. regulations . .. Paul: Grail. (New York: Crossroad. Religion. 417. Mazet. 654. the Reformation. See George David Henderson. Ibid. 9. See M. 70. 10. pp. Ibid. 162–168. . See Dickson.. 5. 66. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press.. Ibid. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. 68.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). 409. CHAPTER THREE 1. 1952). 240. 2. 1948). 2002). S. A. pp. p. Charge I. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. 1734). Revolution and Freemasonry. 1935). p. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal.. Ibid. pp. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. Faivre. 1985). Brown. Ibid. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia.” 99–134. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson..
33. pp. 1996). 1985). is into what did she translate this inner meaning. Ibid. 210–211.. p. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. . I. For the poet of the modernist era. pp. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. 182–183. trs. for a translation of Hymns to the Night.115. see Steven Bullock. Milosz.. pp. 22. 15. pp. Ibid. p. 13. 299. see Versluis.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. Ibid. D. p. 34. . 36. pp. cit. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. 174–175. pp.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. op. 296. 29. 206–207.. p.1 ff. Lib. 455. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. pp. For a more extensive study. 24.. Ibid. Ibid.. The question. 8–9. 2001). Ibid.’s] perspective. Ibid. p.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. See W. p. 303. 31. 1994). op. 37. Susan Friedman. 1982). 1981). 41. 20. of course.. 180–181. D. 19.. Milosz. 469. 16.. p. 28. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. Ibid.. 25. 204–205. . 277.. Ibid. See Versluis. 17. 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.. pp.. Ibid. H. Ibid. p. introduction by Albert Gelpi.. Friedman writes that “From her [H. Milosz. 158). ed.... 38. 299–300. pp.. Ibid. pp. 464. 1989). hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. 300. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Ibid. op. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p.. D. 21. Ibid. Ibid. Scott.. 297–298. See Versluis. cit. 40. 35. 39. pp. cit.. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p.. 178–179. 465. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 157–206. pp. 248. Ibid. 224–225. Ibid. Milosz. 30. I. 23. Ibid. 26. pp. pp. 27. 32.. 14. 226–227. 48–52. p.
71. 20. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. 169.. Ibid. 284–285. 23. Kathleen Raine. E. of course.. Ibid. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press.. “The Walls Do Not Fall. p.” 17. Kraus. pp.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. H. Ibid.. pp. Ibid. ed. The Gift. 20. Ibid.. Ibid. rpt.. 75. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms.. Warlick. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. Social Realism” in B.. ed. Irina Gutkin. p. 72. 53.. D. 56. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). D. Ibid.. 1998). Ibid. 66... 65. D. 67... 45. 70. as well as this entire collection of articles. 49. 165. 168. Ibid. “Tribute to the Angels. 50. for documentation.. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. other authors we could consider here. “Notes. Ibid. H. 61.” pp. p.. 68. see also. 21.” on which see TG. 46. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . 52. 60. p. See. 259. 24. 1997). 154–155. 69. 1967). 223. hereafter cited as TG. Ibid. p. The Gift. 9. 1989).. Ibid. 156–159. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. p. 63. Ibid. D. There are. 62. 51... 102.. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. p. 33. 19. 54. and I certainly recommend her article. p. 2001). 35. Ibid.. 13. See Jane Augustine. 50–51. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. 29. 1. Ibid. 73.. These passages were transcribed by H. See H. 1988). Ibid. 55. p. D. 74. pp. H. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 43.. 48. See M. 18. Ibid. 47. H.. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. Rosenthal. 17–19. “Walls. 67. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 66. D..” 1. 157. 58.. Ibid. See H..” 30–31. p. D. 225–246. 57. 39. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. Ibid. pp. 64. Futurism... p. p. 21. 44. 59. Ibid. 32. Ibid. 222. 271–272. Ibid. Rimius. 50.. 70.
86.. 1988) p. Lewis.. 40. including Fortune’s. Vision. p. 82–83. 102. 98.. 87.). p. 95. The Secrets of Dr. Ibid. 1814). Ibid. p. 79. Faivre. 82. p. op. The Works of William Blake.. p. 70–71. p. 78. p. 1994). (London: Quaritch. 81. ed. 85. and Meditations. p. 99. Ibid. 76. 124–125. 97. pp. Faivre. 320. Ibid.. 239. p. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. Ibid. Collins. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. Gareth Knight... The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Ibid. 92. See on this point. 100. 115. 91. Dion Fortune. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. Southey. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins..d. 101. 1993). 1997). 43. hereafter noted as Meditations. p. Yeats. so I have decided not to include them here. 87. Dion Fortune. Collins. The Magical World of the Inklings... 84. p. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element.. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. I.. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. Lewis. 3 vols. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. pp. 88. 197. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. C. cit. 94. 40. . pp.25.. 10. 323. 1893). 77. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). 291. Ibid. Gareth Knight. C.. Dion Fortune. op. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. p. cit. Ibid. Ibid. 322. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction.). Ellis and W. p. p. 20–21. See Antoine Faivre. 96.. 103. Poems. pp. p. 95. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. 154. retained his magical regalia in his office. 1994) p. op. Fortune. 102. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 104–104. p. 83. 112. cit. 91.. 88. Ibid.. Ibid. B. pp. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. Meditations. 93. Ibid. 127.. p. See for instance. n. 382. 1994). p. Ibid. E. See Collins. 90. 80. Letters from England (London: Longman. Vision. S. 89. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. 101. 21. noted hereafter as Vision. S. p. 1990).
“Warnung an den Leser. p. p. 106. Christosophia IV . p. 109. p. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. 95. 1997) p. E.. Christosophia. Ibid..” 108. IV . See Charles C. A. Diss. for example.. Ibid. Ibid. pp. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.. p. Nishitani Keiji. 116.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 118. Knapp.1 ff. 199. 122. 103. p. p. pp. Peter Erb. See also The Destiny of Man.. 1957). 127.. Ibid. 94. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 71 ff. pp..D.” in B. p.. 62–63. 106. 121. 275 ff. 105. 115. Versluis. 107.. 123. 62. Ibid. 105. p. p. 63. 114. See. Futurism. 170.. 125. Ibid. 117.31.. Ibid.1. 1978). 225. pp. 124.. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. I. 25 ff. 111... Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press.. forthcoming. Ibid. Ibid. 93. Ibid. 128. 112. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 120. Irina Gutkin. 119. 129. Ibid. 39. trs.. 40 and pp. Ibid. “Vorrede. p. 108 ff. 40. II. p.. Socialist Realism. Freedom and the Spirit.. ed. 74. . p. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Ibid. p. 130. 285.” and I. Ibid. See Versluis.. 113. 1994). Rosenthal. 126.29–30. 78. 110.31. Nicholas Berdyaev. Ibid. 194 ff. 1980). I added the colors. p. pp. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. 1958). 1991). Toronto: 1948). Ibid. p..
35–43. 63 Anderson. 18 Arnold of Villanova. Tibetan. 28. 10. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 66 Corbin. 68. 47. 154 Dogen. 94. 5. 93. ix. 81–82 Dee. 148 Barrett. John. 53. John. 5. 78. 40 Bible. 57 Beatrice. 72 Consciousness. 53. 129–135 Comenius. Jacob. John. Franz von. 80–82 Astrology. 99 Dickinson. 150 Browne. 79 Backhouse. William. 89. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 82 Bacon. 96 Berdyaev. 139. 154 Book of Life. 56 Amor Proximi. 27–28. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 11 Dury. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 81–82 Descartes. 56 Baader. 42. 96 Dee. 31. 141 Agrippa. 94. 81. 24. Nicholas. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 140. James. 81 Bruno. 141–142. 68–71. Elias. 59 Dante. 24.E. 129. 143–144. 147 Buddhism. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 95. 5. 77 Bromley. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 28. Francis. 25 Apuleius. 1. 2 Aurea Catena. 78. Abbot. 93. 4. 137 Boethius.. 56 Art. 1 Collins. René. 14. Arthur. Abraham. 56 Bahir. 52. 64. 75 Chivalry. William. 55–67. 80 Böhme. 80. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 2. Tycho. 17 Blake. 25 Ashmole. 45 Chaucer. Henry. 40–41. 82–83 169 . 53 A. 97 Cremer. 152 Brahe. 142. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 97. 75. 57. Cecil. Thomas. 30. Emily. 76 Buddhism.INDEX Abulafia. 20. Geoffrey. initiatory nature of. 61–62. 59. 102. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 51. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. Roger. 28. Giordano. Heinrich Cornelius. Sir Thomas. 28–29. 129. 90. 46 Christ. 138 Basilides. 63. 148–150 Alchemy. 22 Cordovero. Moses. 18.
95 Hartlib. 30. 25 Hinduism. 63. 89–103 Hermetism.170 INDEX Eckhart. 77 Flamel. 57–59. 35. 76 Maistre. 72–73 Faust.D. 43–45. Jewish. Samuel. 36–39 Gutkin. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 5. Christian. 112 Imagination. Meister. 104. 111 Emerson. 2. 123–126. 140 Hippolytus. 138 Katz. 11 Hutton. 22–24 Initiation. Edmond. 106 Eschenbach. 68. 19. 75. 2. 50. 103–119 Hardenberg. Margaret. ix. 46–52.. 109. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. Gareth. 44. ix. Désirée. T. 21 Heydon. 2. 123. 9. 28. 83. 46. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 153–154 Eriugena. Abraham von. Herman. 97. 4. Francis. 89. 120. 18–21. 19 Faivre. 79–86. 56. 56 Jerusalem. Albert. 127 Frankenberg. 104. 26–31. 54. 12–15. Jean. 1. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. Carlos. 111 Esotericism [defined]. Book of. Wolfram von. 8–9 Larronde. Susan. 1 Keeble. 153 Homer. 84. Antoine. 102 Ernst. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 55 Koran. Max. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. Jewish. Johann Wolfgang. 127 Loskiel. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 29 Hiram. 104 Gichtel. 52–54 Kabbalah. 5 Hori. 27–28 Gnosticism. 140 La Fontaine. C. 102 Lee. 112 Friedman. 112 Lull. 129 Kelley. Joseph Edward. Joseph de. Rulman. 105 Eliade.S. 151 Merswin. 104. 100 Hirst.. Ralph Waldo. 88-89. Johannes. 89. Victor Sogen. 22. 101 Freemasonry. 126. Martin. 8. 82–83 Heidegger. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 139 H. Steven. 77 Gelpi. 69 Franklin. 76. Mircea. 21. 25 John. 50. 100. Edward. 29 Mazet. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 103. 111 Geheime Figuren. Nicholas. Andreas. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 2. 105. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 137 Goethe. Benjamin. Ramon. Dion. Michael. 122 Koan.. 21–22 Hermetica. 101–102 Frey. 42. John Scotus. 9 Eliot. 53. 19. 78 Gnosis. John. 100 Marcus. 80–81 Fortune. 82 Knight. 7–8 Esotericism. 107. 56 Maier. 56 Fludd. 40 . Johann Georg. 102 Leade. 90. 84 Lewis. 89. 120–122. 103 Fuller. Jane. 31 Melville. Robert. 51 Islam. 109 Hermeticism. 65. 7–8. Irina. 19–21.S. Georg Heinrich. Brian. 10–12. 99 Grail cycle.
90 Talmud. 140 Templars. Joseph. Thomas. 36. Blaise. 67–69. 64 Roberts. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. sacred. 66 New Age. Jean. 90. 140 Tauler. Czeslaw. George. 110 Southey. 40 Milosz. 52 Pansophy. 89–103. 52–53 Revelation. 51. 150. René. 46. Johannes. 75–78 Paracelsus. 48 Mysticism. 109. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 84 Pordage. 92. Johannes. 99 Prospero. 47–48. 53. 18. 53 Rilke. 5. Book of. 52 Piers Ploughman. John. 103. 32. 120. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. Gershom. 4 Shakespeare. 108. Gillaume. 21. Marguerite. Emanuel. 39–40 Solovyov. Jean. Henry. Christian. 19. 87–88. Paulus. Gospel of. 105. 14. Bernadette. John. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 64. 152 Richter. 99 Scholem. 139 Saint Martin. 90 Milosz. 40 Raine. 92. 99 Pasqually. 2. 58 Numbers. 148 Platonic archetypes. 115. 94. 108 Rimius. 63. Kathleen. Vladimir. 63 Rici.. 99. 114–115 Thenaud. 70. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 140 Tao te ching. 59.R. Gustav. 87–88. 60. 148 Seidel. 21 Poiret. 18. 2 Postel. Martinez de. 5. 119 Raleigh. 116 Nature [concept of]. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 56 Moses de Leon. 2. 26–27 Moravians. 92. 13. 141 . 26 Tolkien. 112–113 Morienus.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola.V ix. 56 Origen. 115. 79. 9. 17. 154–156 Norton. Johann Christoph. 74. 14–15. Rainer Marie. Louis-Claude de. 99. 71–76 Rousseau. 90 Porete. Samuel. 76 Parzival. 138 Stellatus. Pierre. 103. Andrew Michael. 84 Reading. 19.. William. 50 Schuchard. 47. 105. 152 . 56 Swedenborg. 89. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 115 Pythagoras. 56. 136 Science and objectification. 76 Sufism. 116 Self. 112 Ripley. 4 Reuchlin. 69. 25. 113. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 53 Theseus. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz.R. 118 Ramsay. 46. 5 Minotaur. 79. 137. 148 Radical ecology. 103 Pyrlaeus. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 53 Theosophy. 37–38 Pascal. Sir Walter. 29 Pre-Socratics. 57. 32 Plato. 68. 11 Russian literature. 43 Synesius. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 99 Philip. ix. Robert. 69. J. 85. Milton. O. 73. Marsha Keith. 23–26. 8 Rosicrucianism. 123 Poimandres.
103. 148 Zen Buddhism. 140 Valentinus. David. Egidio Cardinal. 53 Versluis. 64. 104. 9. 106 Washington. 84 Williams. 122–123 Williamson. 103. 148 Zosimos.B. M. 63.. 111 Warlick. 88.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. Hugh. 75 Yeats. ix. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. Charles. 10. 89. 120. 2. Georg von. George. 111. 31 Viterbo. 116 Yates. 103.E. 56 . 112–113 Zohar.. 101 Weishaupt. Jean-Baptiste. 137. 82 Troubadours. 156 Zinzendorf. ix. 86 Welling. 55. 35–43 Ungrund. 110. 48. 10. Adam. 79 Willermoz. W. 67–69 Upanishads. 10. Arthur. Nicholas. Frances.
(Graz: Akademische. Earlier. Gnoses. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. Theosophy.. 2 vols. Imagination.msu. 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.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www.aseweb. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (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.org. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff.esoteric. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. 1998). Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. along with its companion book. 2001). 1975). eds. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1992). (Leuven: Peeters. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . 1956). 1998). 1998). as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. 1992). 2000). 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. 1994). Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. In the voluminous Ésotérisme.
1996). 2001). 1994). Gnosis and Literature (St. 2000).174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. . Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. edited by Brian Keeble. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 1996). Paul: Grail. 2002). This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. 1999). Paul: Grail. Paul: Paragon House. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press.