Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness

Arthur Versluis



SUNY series in

Western Esoteric Traditions

David Appelbaum, editor

Art. 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 . Literature.Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism.

ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. paper) 1. magnetic tape. cm. For information. 3. 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. Anne M. 2. electrostatic. NY 12207 Production. BF1411. Occultism in literature. Occultism in art. Suite 700. Occultism—History. II. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. Laurie Searl Marketing. recording. I.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . Albany. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. Authur. 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. art. photocopying. p. Series. Title. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. mechanical. address State University of New York Press. 90 State Street. literature.

In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .


Pansophic. Rosicrucian. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 .Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic.

and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 . Art.viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature.

Hence. and consciousness itself. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. but the work’s focus remains Western. but as the book took shape. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. literature. At the suggestion of an early reader. Milosz. In writing this book. D. H. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. V. Lewis. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. 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. and Cecil Collins. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. O. C. At the very least. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. ix .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. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. art. but in keeping with my original impetus. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. S. traditions.. figures. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists.


Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.D. from Trilogy. Poems. 1997). © 1945 by Oxford University Press. and to Studies in Spirituality.). xi . de L. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. including the adapted cover illustration.D. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. from Trilogy. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. each of whom helped to make it a better work. (Ipswich: Golgonooza. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies.). (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne.. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. 1985). 1994) and Meditations. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. 2001). copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Milosz. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. V. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H.


Yet for this to take place. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. and metaphysical or transcendent. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. but also. and otherwise. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. literary. mutually 1 . however.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. figures. are now appearing. and perhaps even more critically. or conveying spiritual experiences. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. These are not.1 Here. and one that has ramifications in many directions. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. even apophatic mysticism. In this book. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). the study of mysticism. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. religious. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. artistic.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works.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. provoking.

and social histories. But the time for such biases is past. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. theosophy. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. Christian theosophy. or convey spiritual awakening. philosophical. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. religious. provoke. In essence. do have certain characteristics in common. or gnosis. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. Rather. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. Not at all. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. including alchemy. Christian gnosis. or Hermeticism. Jewish Kabbalah. Yet these traditions. above all this is a book about knowing. however disparate. however. and about how we come to know. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. astrology. of course. examples of it include alchemy. that is what this book is about. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. left out of literary. magic. . and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. Freemasonry. Undoubtedly. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. this must be our primary focus. astrology. In particular. 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. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. Here.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. Rosicrucianism. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. magic. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. mysticism. Like the koan.

in my view. Thus. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. In many respects. when we look at Western societies. and to alternative forms of spirituality. By looking more closely at the origin. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. Western esotericism is. nature. we find on the social front. and to understand their patterns and meaning. At the same time on the religious front. and cults existed side by side. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. . but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. 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 continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. despite their often almost bewildering variety. a vast field. about reading the stars. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. And underlying these is. of course. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. To navigate one’s way through these movements. proliferating wildly. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. For as we will see. which is often seen either as outdated. the Western esoteric traditions. what their predecessors are. therefore. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. and there are many treasures to be found there. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. sects. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. our time resembles the early Christian era. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. when a panoply of religions. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity.

as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. And when we read a great poem.’ itself a metaphor for our time. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. however.’ that is. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. so too there are great readers. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. and ultimately with the divine. and each requires the other. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. What is more. By contrast. we enter into another’s world. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. but with consciousness itself. In every experience of literature. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. purgatory. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. we have developed machines that ‘read. reading here guides one toward gnosis. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. Greek in origin. of course. The word gnosis. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. or spiritual knowledge.’ Unexamined here. also about union. refers to spiritual knowledge. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. If there are great writers. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. we feel as someone else feels. 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. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. The mystery of reading is. minerals and stars. and will require much elaboration. 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. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. when we read the works of an Emerson. imaginatively enter into different lives. and heaven. why do we travel with . but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. Likewise. but can be transmuted. is much deeper than it might at first appear. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. When we read a novel. in other words.

When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. We make connections. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. fiction. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. What is more. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. and when we read them. 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. not about accumulating more information.” 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. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. drama. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. and essays. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. 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. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. and where we are going. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. we understand. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. where we are from. like so many others. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. Rather.

the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. but also the even more primal act of knowing. nature. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. By contrast. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. and the divine. living divorced from humanity. or manipulation. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. grounded in spirituality. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. indeed. but for connection and union. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. it suffuses our language. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. people most of all. 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. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. quantitative. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. 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. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. including people. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. finally. and everything becomes a matter of techné. most notably Western esoteric traditions. Certainly Western esoteric traditions were prevalent at the beginning of the modern era: contemporaneous with the emergence of modern rationalist science were completely different kinds of sciences. In this respect. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. 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. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. from which we believe that we are separate. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. the way we see the world. everything. as if catalogic. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. and particularly literature. Those studying the humanities.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole.

One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. French scholar Antoine Faivre emphasized the word esotericism—as opposed to esoterism—and developed a set of largely cosmological characteristics that he saw as characterizing most Western esoteric individuals and groups from the Renaissance into the early twentieth century. The reader. 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. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. And in North America as well. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. literature. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. In Western Europe. and consciousness.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. alone with an author.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. so too that choice still exists today.6 Subsequently. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. . one de facto excludes many authors or groups whose works might be categorized under the heading mysticism or gnostic—except if they display an interest in. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. works. and so to maintain clarity. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. 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. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. and groups in Western European and North American history. Indeed. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. crystals. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. and so forth. And indeed. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. however.



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



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-

eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. in his Shobogenzo. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized.”11 This is. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. joined to a view of Zen Buddhism as a way of escaping the pollution of society and language back to an original pureness beyond language. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. but into conventional consciousness . a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. through language and image. From this viewpoint. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. 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. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. I believe. but this is by no means to say that therefore there is no such thing as nonconceptual or transcendent knowledge unmediated by language or image. . .” Victor Sogen Hori argues that it is mistaken to hold that koans are a means for ascending out of thought and language into a state of pure consciousness. then it is a breakthrough not out of. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . however. At one time. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). not beyond it.

In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. What makes Western esotericism different above all. as I will propose here. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. for that matter. This is not to say that the West had or. as in individual daydreams. frustrating though this may be. I am arguing that in the West. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. Rather.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. T H E E S O T E R I C I M A G I N AT I O N The word imagination of course derives from image. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. I believe. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. 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. as means of initiation. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. and thus also to the individual. Like the koan. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. Rather. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. By . If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. 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. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. 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.

an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. 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. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. 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. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. in other words. Obviously. This work is circumscribed. For instance.12 As a result. literary or otherwise. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. it is not for a general readership. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. Imagination. the images.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. the action by the act of reading or viewing. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. it is for the few. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. For example. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. guide. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way.

2. 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.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. which is what I am proposing here. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. But there is a third perspective. and this too presents problems. in other words. and 3. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. Sympathetic readers. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. 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. who enter into a work imaginatively. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you.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. 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. and nothing less. 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. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. but here a new magical earth is brought . 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. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. not one’s own.” The gnostic. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. Initiates. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader.’ only that one has to make the effort to understand an esoteric work as much as possible sympathetically from an imaginative entry into its realm. Yet if we answer “yes. graspable solution to a koan. to understand them. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no.

taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. in sum. This. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. is by its very nature one of co-creation. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. In other words. What is more. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. to the divine power within that creates. then. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. The realm of the imagination. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. . 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. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. 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. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. 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. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise.


and resurrection. And to find these themes. From relatively early on. The other kind of writing. needless to say. and. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. the Book of Revelation. 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. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. is profoundly different. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. what we may call a 17 . specifically at the beginning of Christianity. This. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. we must begin in antiquity. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. however. death. Here. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word.

revelatory emphasis. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. 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. we can see how anomalous it is. and indeed. By contrast. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. In Christianity. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. or historical. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. should it be ahistorical. and mythic. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. as throughout world religious traditions. an ahistorical. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. Of course.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. for instance. and on the other. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. The gnostics. be it scientific. symbolic. multilayered approaches. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. the development of Buddhism. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. the Word was not literal but spiritual. Consider. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. that one can easily list them. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. or technological. literal. legal. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. so rare—in fact. on the other hand. of course. .

and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. and communion. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. and who else was accepted as orthodox. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. Who was rejected as heretical. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. here it is vertical. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. who are worthy of it. In general. For instance. true pronunciation. the seeds of all things. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. and spiritual illumination. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. one is in touch with inconceivable power. 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. however much their literalist opponents think differently. chiefly vowels. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. but of communication. just . some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. asceticism.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. but such an approach is not for everyone. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. that is. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. Likewise. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing.

as does the creation of images. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. The letters.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. but if the letters were properly restored. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. and so forth. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. 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. as principles of creation itself. All of this is to suggest that there was in antiquity in Jewish and Christian esoteric circles a very widespread gnosis of language which was grounded in writing. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. through images. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world.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. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. such images represent divine aspects. so the letters were altered. 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. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. basilisks. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. which undoubtedly drew upon and incorporated elements of the Greek mystery traditions even as they differed from the Greeks in their emphasis upon writing down the mysteries and then writing down commentaries upon the previous writings. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. and so forth. 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. inconceivable power would be set loose. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. paradoxically conveyed often through . 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. thereby making this conflict inevitable. then. and macrocosmically. Letters and numbers. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. are a means to creation’s redemption.

which were also about death and resurrection.” but not like an ordinary sleep. In at least some respects. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. presented in the form of dialogues. but share elements in common with all three.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing.22b) . Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing.25). in symbols and myths. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. is self-evident. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. in the first centuries of this era. tells him. 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. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism).” (X. of the mysteries tradition.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. Poimandres. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum.” the being. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. number. There is no one author of the Hermetica. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries.” the “voice of the Light. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. “for I am with you everywhere. letter. out of which emerges a “holy Word.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. “I know what you wish. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways.” From the very beginning. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. “there is communion between soul and soul.

it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. Christian esotericism. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. or direct knowledge of the divine. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. yet not strictly philosophical either. traditions. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. However. then. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. and . and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. the mystery traditions. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. 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. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. and there is a witness to the revelation. For from what we have said. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. mercurial quality to it. Like Hermes himself. It is. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer.” “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. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. they certainly intermingled. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. Indeed. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. 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. always there is a fluid. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. Platonism. and Hermetism. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. what we find is something quite different. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis.

and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me .ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. when he eats the book. but take place in their own time. in the fourth chapter. and where the earthly past. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. beginning with the Revelation to John. and only then. and behold. in other words. I believe that literature. and future are visible. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. And immediately I was in the spirit. an elder tells him to weep not. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. There are. off the Greek coast. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. saw and heard these things. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. once introduced to this sequence. and one sat on the throne. . present. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. At one point. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. mythology. Above all. when he weeps. he is told to eat. Although the vision has a beginning. came the following: “After this I looked. However. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. Rather. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. questions. apparently visionary time. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). he sees the twenty-four elders. . of course. where John meets. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. a door was opened in heaven. quite well known. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. or field of the imagination. a throne was set in heaven. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. and does eat. John. a little book sweet as honey.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. Then. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. and he interacts with them. a mesocosm. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. and behold. and the auditory part of the vision began. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. turned. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. and in the tenth chapter. Yet interestingly. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is.

and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. Taken together. Christian Gnosticism. and Hermetism. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. Additionally. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. The Revelation. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. John is given a little book to eat. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . becoming symbolically charged. the very book that we are reading. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. but sweet as honey on his lips. and one hundred forty-fours. there are “other books. and finds it bitter in his belly. 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. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. twelves.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. found in Judaism. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. which he does. angels. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality.” during these the end times.13). And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. One. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. 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).12). After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. of course. the Book of Revelation of St. And then there is. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. of course. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. and are in a sense initiates. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. John is united with its knowledge. In the tenth chapter. in other words. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. Every aspect of life is altered. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. we will recall. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. But for our purposes.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. 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. a gnostic encounter with elders. all remind us of the prior traditions. and by eating the book. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity.9).

Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. including the two books of Enoch. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. where an encounter may take place. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. words. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. a hearer. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. but among numerous other revelations from the same era.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. and what is heard. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. 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 . seen by a seer. at the mystical tradition. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. and of James and of Adam. Yet because it became canonical. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. splendid earthly form: but again. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. profoundly symbolic numbers. At the same time. Rather. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. 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. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. the Ascension of Isaiah. and what is seen. it is an image. at the Kabbalistic tradition. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. Of course. the Revelation does not stand alone. all of which belong to the apocrypha. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field.

There is an element of danger inherent in such proximity—those who come too close to the gods or angels may go mad or blind. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. objectifying it. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. or from exoteric to esoteric. we are drawn toward it. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. it is certainly not the only one. far more than may at first appear. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. often in a simple story. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. for although the Revelation is the most well known. 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. of being charged. or one may enter into it—just as there is a range of approaches to such a work—so too there is a range of such works. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. more electric. So it is with the story of Theseus. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside.’ of participation. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. In other words. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. to the transcendent. Esoteric literature. to make it one’s own. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. And though we risk being burned. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. and exists more for entertainment. ranging from external to internal. as wild as the book of Revelation.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. without relevance to oneself. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. how hieroeidetic a work is. a constellation of letters and numbers. The analogy of electricity. or put better.



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.



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

apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. words. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. 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. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. or one will . The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. This name was composed of four syllables. in the Gospel of Philip. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. Indeed.”3 In other words. although we refer to them by the same names. embody. 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. or aeon. For instance. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. and reveal transcendence. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. there is earthly marriage. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. sacred images. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. the first of which had four letters. As we ‘read’ these images.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. and numbers emerge in. but different aspects of the same way. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. we become intimate with them. in dreams. VI. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. we participate in what they represent. not opposite or even complementary ways. which is of a totally different order. and its light “never sets. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent.xxxvi). we find plays on naming and namelessness. and in religious experiences.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. 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. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. and the entire name had thirty letters.

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. 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. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen.”4 In other words. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. for such a one the world is transparent. for the aeon is fullness for him. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. elusive. when one dies. The nameless and the named are not divided. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. characteristic ways of understanding. Rather. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. but rather. 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. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. Here naming refers. not to arbitrary designations. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. gnostic paradigms. evokes. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. but is free in life and in death. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. The cosmos is no longer opaque. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. but its inseparable companion. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. the unnameable. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. . to actual energies that the name itself embodies. indeed. The world has become the aeon. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. not hidden in the darkness and the night. divided consciousness. is.

They are only the sensible expression. on which conventional mathematics is founded. What is more. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. however. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. in his own degree. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. and are visible in major European literary works. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. everyone. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. of course. On the lowest level. . Here. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. letters.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. without masters. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. By contrast. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. .”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. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. my dear brother. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. separated from the subject who sees. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. woven together into a .5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). but as qualities pregnant with meaning. which is the mystery of words and of the book. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. A fourth characteristic is imagery. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. to which I have already devoted some study. According to rational consciousness. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. More intimately. of the different properties of beings. and therein we obtain the pure key. which all proceed from the one only essence . nor wholly from without. Out of the gnoses of numbers. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. whether visible or intellectual. including Piers Ploughman. a third characteristic. Even more intimately yet. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history.

but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. from antiquity to the present. Egyptian. images. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. Greek. . Its mysteries of names. and traditions best express his understanding. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. Christian. and images. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. taken together. Roman. 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. By following the courses of Western esotericism. letters. 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. but also to convey it. numbers. Jewish and Christian and Greek. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. in one form or another. whether. often do not hold at all. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. words. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. to become it. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. words. as John ingests the little book in Revelation.


of course. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions.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. 35 . but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. in giving honor to his beloved. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. The troubadour. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. sees her (or him. 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. 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. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song.

Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. But when we look at these movements as a whole. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. or love’s faithful. Of course. even surreptitious. Instead. is no. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. that is to say. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own.E. Much more likely that here. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. . they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. I think. 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. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances.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 esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. likewise. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. for example. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. never explicitly discussing. particularly the chivalric tradition. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature.

Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. and has a rich reward in heaven.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. we are told. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. there is no need to erase it. a hermit. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. worthy. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. but God may have taken them back. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. and this is the mystery of names. then the chivalric life is his one desire. He found that a man named Flegetanis. For instance. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. . In any event. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. and to whom God sends his angel. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. occupying a middle ground between these. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. but there is another source.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. For.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. Hearing this. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. noble angels. teacher of Eschenbach. those who did not take sides. both pagan and Christian. whence had come the Grail. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. for the name disappears. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. that is. Naturally.

in particular. we will recall. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. He was to ask.” chiefly Saturn. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. we are told to honor women. Throughout the tale. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. Parzival. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. but also with the changing of the moon. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. of course. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. the knight is told by Feirifiz.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. The Grail. Saturn to suffering. entertaining. For instance. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. just as is Western esotericism more generally. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. like chivalric literature more generally. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. then their sorrows would end. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. and if he asked a Question. Yet this implicit esotericism. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. then naming them one by one in Arabic. and that of all the Grail servers. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. When inevitably she does so.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications.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. the spotted knight. 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. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. remains this-worldly in emphasis. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. And at the book’s conclusion.2 The presence in this tale of astrological and other references to Judaism and Islam as well as to Asia (in the figure of Prester John) reminds us once again that the Grail tradition. and that is the exalted position of women. and at the end of the tale. Rather. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. of course.

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. but with the five fingers. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. like Grail tales more generally. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. Once again. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. these being liberality. Yet in the story’s conclusion. as I have elsewhere shown. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. like several others in the poem. loving kindness.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 number of maidens serving the Grail. First. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. This famous passage. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. in Gawain as in Parzival. When Gawain. the poem. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. the five virtues. 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. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. he ultimately feels shamed. At the end of Gawain. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. And this green marks my second point of observation. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. part of a tradition that. is marked with a tiny colored initial. the first is the true knot. in the image of the pentangle. and piety. courtesy. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. continence. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. of course. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. with the five wounds of Christ. marking why Gawain is a fine man. Gawain’s symbol. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. and. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself.

but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. the hidden divine messenger. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. Or again. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. green is the color of nature. yet it is also the symbol of new life. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. pus nons val arditz. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. This same duality inheres in the color green. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland.” or “the Green Isle. although a lay group. yet at the same time. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. / And since talking directly can’t help us. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). One does find esoteric themes. like the chivalric orders. perhaps cunning can. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world.”] Or again. not monastic or priestly. growth. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. and renewal. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. Gawain. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy.” The Friends of God were.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. to be renewed. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. and the illicit. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable.

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. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. but the faculty of imaginal perception. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. thrice-blessed Lady. an intervening figure in the tradition. of course. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. in the ninth hour of the day. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. 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. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. calls upon the “book of memory. time. who lived during the fifth century. as does the play that we see here on naming. Thus Dante’s greatest works. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. and his commentary. and words and ideas into the empyrean. Dante ends this strange work. poems. La Vita Nuova. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. we end by passing beyond space. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. In De consolatione. There is. of course. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. as in the Divine Comedy. like the great Divine Comedy.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. This is.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. Dante sees Beatrice again. and exactly nine years later. with a final vision about which he will not now write. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. 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. Boethius. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. albeit more literary. philosophical. full of images. is a visionary poem. this time wearing a white dress. And of course. and here.

Chaucer was not that kind of poet.” “gastly for to see.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. daunces” around her. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. caroles. the theater of art. here. instrumentz. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. 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. above all. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. known as a primary literary figure in English history. and of divine service. however.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. Like Dante. But all the same. marked east and west by gates of marble.” with “festes. knarry. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. Chaucer was not an esotericist. especially of the knight for his lady. Chaucer.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. And these are evoked . is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets.” and by “kervere of ymages. Earthy. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. Here. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions.” Thus this tale.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. yet he went further. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. We see in Chaucer’s tale. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. bareyne trees olde.” In that “portreiture. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. with an oratory. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. 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.

literature is not only entertainment. like Chaucer. until he was thirty. In the ninety-ninth chapter. and indeed. 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. (part of his romance Blanquerna). Ars brevis. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. 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. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. given its astonishing scope. The lover answered. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence.” are familiar to students of . not just a set of correspondences. and Ars generalis ultima. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. (a kind of chivalric code). and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. For although Lull. troubadour. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. The Book of Contemplation.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. we are given the meditations of the hermit.” The Art represents. “knowledge” and “remembrance. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. In fact. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. and of course his most well-known and influential works. At this juncture. Lull. was prolific. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. Not surprisingly. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. one for each of the 365 days of the year. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. These terms. but with the advent of rationalism. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. and this is no accident. bringing together the chivalric. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered.

west. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. Here we find a clear condemnation. north and south. but for purposes of clarity. whose influence extended across Europe. out of arrogance or presumption. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. but of those done with the wrong attitude.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. Originally. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. not of figures. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. The cosmos represents the divine writing. most of all in the exposition of his art. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. and writings in themselves. and profaning holy things with figures. Lull used more letters. This extraordinary art. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. Further. images. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. Of course. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. as the readers of Lull’s book. invoking evil spirits as good angels. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. rather than my Beloved in the world. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. all errors are implanted in the world. since my Beloved contains all. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. just as the writer is in his book. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. By means of these letters. images. he condensed his art into nine letters. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. we are also participating in this relationship. and images. and writings. 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. ‘Yes. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. and that is the book.’ They asked him. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved.” In this falsified knowledge. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . and by writings. that is. And through presumption. However.’”5 The world is a book for those who can read: this is a constant refrain within the Western esoteric traditions from antiquity to the present.

it includes and transcends logic. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. The Lullian art. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. angel. and numerous other arrangements. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. At the same time. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. 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. B—Bonitas.” C signifies “greatness. tables. found in the Ars compendiosa. I— Veritas. trees. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. has vast implications. 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. depending upon how the letters are combined. “goodness. In the full art. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. and gluttony. prudence. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. which are seen in both traditions as transcendent principles the combination of which can ultimately bring us to and reveal the inner nature of the divine. Lull himself combined them using circles. justice.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. B signifies. for example. triangles. 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. and avarice. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. E—Potestas. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. for instance. difference. concordance. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. Hence in many respects. and so forth. God. what?. For instance. whether?. Of course his work is unique. . For this reason. or that from the Ars brevis. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that.

And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. the words. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. but what is more. the chivalric. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. . BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. 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.or eighteenth-century German. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth.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. or English gnostic. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. but this is virtually never the case. French. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. 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. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. and Freemasonry. Rather. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. however. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. And as literature. It is. of course. intricately woven. In these traditions. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. Christian. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. Rosicrucianism. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. But there is another element as well that we must recognize: all of these authors in turn manifest unique combinations of tendencies or currents that preëxist and transcend them. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. troubadour. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books.

not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. terminology. disclosing them only in parabolic language. number.E. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. “The affinity with the language. dating to the Talmudic period. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. also may have roots elsewhere.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. . Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. and cosmogony. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. For instance. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. and thus Kabbalism. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. But the Bahir. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. and Kabbalism more generally. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. and elsewhere in Europe. The book Bahir.8 But for our purposes. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. And in fact. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. Castile. for instance. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. 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. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation.” Scholem concludes.9 Yet at the same time. 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.

informing the cultural. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah).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. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. spiritual.” (that is. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. writing the Names of God) and through this power. said to symbolize the abdomen. for example. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. 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.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. But in any event. 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. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . which comprise a total of 613 letters. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. the tonal accents.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. but another view. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. For example. as a female is fertilized from the male. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. he wrote the entire work without any precedent.11 Of course.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. In section 124.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. 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. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. including the human body. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. and natural realms at once.” Indeed. supported by some contemporary testimony. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. caught up in the spirit. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well.

”18 This.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. in the Fountain of Wisdom.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence.” One can easily see. from reading this extraordinary work. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. made transparent so . inquiry . corresponding to yod. and 160. For instance. not even Moses. all are found in this Name.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. or aleph. 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. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source.” 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. but My Face will not be seen. voice. eighty. . utterance. the tenth letter. in this context. and yod in turn becomes twenty. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life.”17 By investigation.”14 In other words.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. speech. Through this kind of multiplication. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. is allowed to ask questions. whispering. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. an ¯ “ether. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. forty. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. the essence of everything. Here. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. so to say. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt.” about which no one.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. . yet when these Names are removed. . Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. sum and computation of the explication of the Ineffable Name [of God]—unique in the branches of the root of vocalization that is magnified in the thirteen types of transformation.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. all comprehension and thought. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back.” which may or may not itself be an “a.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. out of it emerges the Names. action . we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. . we are told.

as Scholem remarks. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. then. but also metaphysical. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. that of hardened or congealed materiality. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath.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. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. All of these exist. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. emerges. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. not from this side. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. but from the other.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . broadly speaking. sometimes without. is not only cosmological. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. including thought.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. ’En sof literally means “infinity. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. 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.20 For that matter. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. Indeed. Medieval Kabbalism. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness.



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



traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of



language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century

in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. and beauty. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In the twentieth century. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. In the eighteenth century. literature represents portals into the transcendent. however unfamiliar to us today. And when we look at Kabbalism. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. To such approaches. surface is nothing and depth is everything. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. Such an approach to literature. intricacy. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. Here. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. . Spain.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. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. which is. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. after all. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. For Kabbalah. or vice versa. much less the possibility of transcendence. where one finds literature and religion fused. ramified throughout religious and literary history. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. that is. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. or vice versa. But before discussing these implications. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. Indeed. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. that ultimately all beings will be saved.

Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. on the other transmitted by way of literature. like the alchemical expression or riddle. as we saw earlier. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. forces one to wrestle with it alone. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. hence on the one hand religious. itself also highly literary: the koan. So too.’ yet not entirely Christian. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. However. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. to work it through. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. Indeed.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. as the “art of Hermes. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. not entirely ‘pagan. . Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. alchemy. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. Of course. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. we cannot help but notice religious references. When we look at European alchemical works. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature.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. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. To the first-time observer.

Olympiodoros. 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. plant. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. a tradition transmitted through literature. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. After all. either. Synesius. and the spiritualizing of the body. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. 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. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. put another way. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. Indeed. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. One places oneself in the line of what is. even if its work resembles these in some respects. alchemical literature. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). the vegetable. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal.. even if it does not entirely belong to these. or the animal kingdom. . For alchemy extends into many realms. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova.E. thirteenth century).. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted.E. as has historical placement. or al-Rhazi (ca. that is. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. All of these authors did write on alchemy. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world.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. in the revelation of paradise. 825–932 C. Ramon Lull. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. and takes place by way of fire. the embodying of spirit. be they in the mineral. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present.—latinized as Rhazes). or animal into its paradisal original true nature. and Morienus of the seventh century C. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission.E. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. Roger Bacon. George Ripley (fifteenth century). at heart. Thus. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition.

HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). and are to come. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. If thou knowest the substance and the method. Thomas Norton. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. “The Golden Tripod. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). of course. and gave it to us by mighty toil. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . and thou knowest all. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. were. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. .” In other words. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. in his preface. composer. it is enough. Here.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. which Vulcan cast into the sea. Maier. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. physician. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. His title. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. . only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. bracketed by mythological references. and author Michael Maier. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. seek not many utensils for thy labor. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. Indeed.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. .” that is.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are.

is at once literary and practical. over a fire.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. and this Mars has done. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. being bereft of images . to become impalpable . . and to the queen’s left. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. the queen a three-flowered plant. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. as well as an angel blowing a horn. 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 tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. . before him a burning barrel. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. including two archers shooting at targets. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. Shortly thereafter. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. in the background a dead tree stump. Here you see the perfection of our Art.” With its spiritual essence. and a man sowing seeds. while the Moon. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. the king bearing a staff. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. and that which is palpable.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. and proved of the greatest efficacy.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. while around him are various figures.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. the Sun.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. on the far left side a single candle. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. a half-naked man with a scythe. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. that which is visible. a king and a queen. he cured a sick fellow monk completely.” pleads the case of her husband.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. to be invisible. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. despite its elliptical means of expression. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe.

Dalton said he was happy to die. Cremer in this. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. a man named Herbert. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. and prepared in about four days. 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. two of living sulphur.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. of course. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton.”35 And indeed. so as not to lose legibility over time. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. two of orange arsenic. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. and tortured for four years. three of rabusenum.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. Such. his last testament. and so was let go. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. and two of willow charcoal. 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. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. In recent times. we are told. strong and pure. of .” Benedictine abbot of Westminster.

these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. ethereal counterparts. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. To say. water. And of course. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. We may ‘read. Of course. but also through the power of the imagination. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. vegetable. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. Confronted with such a colloquy. 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. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. According to Paracelsus. allegories. not all evestra are benefic. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. one may know the inner nature of anything. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. Paracelsus tells us. not merely from the outside and as other. then. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . to carry it within. But in any event. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. poems. Through these evestra. but is joined with them in the imagination.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. fire. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. its subtle essence. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images.’ then. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. epigrams. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. and animal realms. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. literary allusions. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. not only by looking at words on a page. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. Imagination governs the development of things. one branch of alchemy. for they occupy different dimensions within it. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. Spagyric medicine. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. air. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination.

II Chronicles 13:5. 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. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. and so forth. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. it is entirely real. while others. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. . The terms used in its title—oil. philosophy. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. Genesis 1:27. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. wine. a matter of . just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace.74). . as a spirit. fire. may be interpreted in both ways at once. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. 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. It is as though here alchemy. light air. Of course. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. these two poles became further separated. indeed. emphasize their recipe quality. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. . geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. This is the true Ground of Nature . .” and to a host of Biblical references. like Valentinus’s. the true medicine and theology. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. but here are clearly spiritualized. 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.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. including Romans 1. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). and mist.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. more real than what we see in the physical. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. like Cremer’s testament. but that in this particular worldview. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. The mechanistic worldview is all surface.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary.

like Hermeticism. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. the author writes “That the earth is dark. the depths. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. but the Sun light. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. Salt. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. Water. we are told. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. a true Astrologus. nor whence they emerge (II. Oil. However. and one three . traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. And so we find the three One. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. .105).62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. inward dimension. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. In fact. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. these terms have an alchemical provenance. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward.77). here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. Oil. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. spiritual dimensions of the work. Fire. is a perspective that is all depth. in harmony” (II. or Water is. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. as a kind of counterpoint.83). for instance. . in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. Yet alchemy. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. that is the mystery wherein all lies.80).93). and when either one is absent. and a true Medicus. easily translates into a dominant religion. Thus. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. just as we find for instance Islamic . But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. of existence. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements.83). but here. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works.

which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). Within each of these broad sections are individual chapters whose content begins with chemical or alchemical topics and moves through these to theosophic or gnostic themes such as “The urangelical world. of the second. including “Chymie” or alchemy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. astrological. Indeed. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. and he and his spiritual circle. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. The implication. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. on sulfur. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. beginning with the organization of the first section. But such rumors aside. of course. and gnostic metaphysics. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. on salt. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. astrology. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. 1675). Pordage’s work. and of the third. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. This is not . from spiritual to physical. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. Christian theosophy.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. not merely a pastiche. on mercury.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). 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. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. and Kabbalistic themes. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. Kabbalah.

a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. and calcify it by hand. charts. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. . . Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. 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 . or mercury. then in a Liquorem . he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. diagrams. das himmlische Manna genannt. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. tables. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. For instance. Here. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. At the same time. Christian scripture. sulfur.” “Cherubim. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. including D.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. with a plethora of astrological symbols. meaning the transcendent Godhead.” and so forth. . to properly prepare mercury. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding.” “Thronen. in other words. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. diagrams. and in this regard he succeeded. and “Manna Coeleste. and instructions. Indeed. he elided many details. of Pisa. 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. . but might well also be called pansophic. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires.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.” Further. “Alchimische Fragen.

of course. we can easily see. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. as well as with what these represent. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. Here. In this sense. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. water. fire. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. letters. like a painting. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. and to ‘write. both seek to perfect this creativity. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. or grammars. recipes. One must learn both to ‘read. including not only chemicals and equipment. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. broadly seen. and that we will shortly examine further. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. Thus we may well say that. of course. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. animal.’ in the broadest possible sense. air. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. however far-reaching. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. In some respects. but also in the microcosm of the artist. vegetable. but even more in the perfection of humanity. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks.’ There is. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . is a relatively modern phenomenon. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. alchemy is like learning to use a language. Alchemy. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. a natural homology between alchemy and art. for example. Alchemy. so that everything—mineral. and images. 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 not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. and the divine in ever more profound ways. Indeed. In Christian terms. The ‘solution. It is true that more recently theorists. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. between the observer and that which is observed. and the restoration of the right . have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. However. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. I would use the word decoding. literature. both of physics and of literary criticism. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. This is by no means to suggest. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. and science are one. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. no doubt of that. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. like Jung. extends into a range of realms at once. humanity. were one to decipher what x and y mean. 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. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. between subject and object. humanity. Contemporary views of literature. one would have the solution. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. Here in alchemy. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. in the manner of a mathematical equation. In alchemy. 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.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. like those of science. But in alchemical works. Oral commentary by a master is important. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. religion. and the divine. nature. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature.’ in the case of alchemy. Rather. 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.

pansophy. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. and Freemasonry. in particular Christian theosophy. divided against the world. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. R O S I C R U C I A N . 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. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As we have seen. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. Rosicrucianism. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. We should also keep in mind the growing split. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. against ourselves. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. in the modern era. Indeed. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. but in relation to a host of other currents. between the sciences and the . but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. nineteenth. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. PA N S O P H I C . Literature forms a means toward this gradual process because it is in literature that we can come to identify with and understand in more profound ways all that surrounds us. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. In the study of Western esotericism. and against the divine. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. especially during the eighteenth. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. So it is with alchemy. and twentieth centuries. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone.

But his inspiration came chiefly from within. It is true that. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. including. in the sciences. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. comparative and syncretic. the discovery of more complex technology. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. to name only a few of the most luminary. illustration and literature. the fields of alchemy. say. at least in the secular world. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. practiced medicine and astrology. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. chemistry. The Copernican revolution. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. However. in Western esotericism we find. and in religion. and geology. rather than seeking to separate. near Poland. quite the opposite movement. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. a city on the eastern side of Germany. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. physical chemistry from metaphysics. Rather. as well as De Signatura . the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. archaeology. this sense of unity dissolved. Indeed. or Aurora. John Pordage. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. and drawing from his visionary experiences. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. medicine and astrology. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. in the arts. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. wrote literary works. nor is that our aim. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. explored theology and metaphysics. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. our approach being thematic. But Western esotericism. and Franz von Baader.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. the emergence of biology.



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



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

Not coincidentally..44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. And of course this brief work. translates the “book M. R. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. and later. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. and among Sufis and Kabbalists.” These “Books of Nature. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. R. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism.”46 When C.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). This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. even if at times such orders did exist. R. like its complement the Confessio. they could collect Librum Naturae. and this is the “book M. The Rosicrucians’ goal. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. in the Orient. R. “or a perfect method of all arts. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. But in any event. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. according to the Fama. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. and why he is called Microcosmos. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. C. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. caused a great stir in Europe..” C. Hermeticism. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. Indeed. generally speaking. if not universalism. returns eventually to Germany. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. 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. of Christian theosophy as well. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. like us. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. For from the very beginning of the Fama.” however. are to be collected by the wise.” into good Latin from Arabic. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge.

called I. . . a century old. than that which is the head and sum.” the Fama continues. Interestingly. Among other questions.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. with a large dictionary . and arts.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. Yet once again. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. recur as well in the Confessio. . or are able to believe or utter. so that no one might later be deceived. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. sciences. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. undestroyed. like the book. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. and by them was made the magical language and writing. and hidden to the wicked world. . the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . that you could so read in one only book. 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. by four persons only. is. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. it is to read the universal book.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. first. and of reading the mysterious book of books. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. the foundations and contents of all faculties. . . full of geometric symbolism.” There is more. “After this manner. or hope for. are now. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. wish. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . but follow only Christ. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. and come into our brotherhood. belongs to the mind and imagination. they also made the first part of the book M.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. and withal by reading understand and remember. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. The description is often hard to follow. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. of eclecticism or universalism. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. every one with their several figures and sentences. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. and shall be) hath been.

so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. yet shall we never be manifested . . including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. yea. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. . and held that there was emerging a new revelation. metahistorical events at the end of time. without and against the will of God. All of this. into all beasts . and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing.”55 The implication is that here. . in the Rosicrucian mysteries. the Bible. a new era for mankind. and made. and have found out. and quite probably to Egypt. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity.”52 “These characters and letters. yea. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . 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.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. a very long history in the West. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. . It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. 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. for instance. . and above all. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. and writing in a “magic language. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. of course. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. with the date 1604. or sixth age. of course. 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.” Such an idea of a magic language has. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. and endue them with learning . stretching back at least to the Gnostics. for instance. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. or worse than nothing. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. . an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. a new language for ourselves.

we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. Here. By 1623. that is. 1604. disappearing around 1620. brilliant. 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.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. The Rosicrucian dream. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. Here. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. and it too has been used in magical workings.” 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. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. 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. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic.’s tomb. demons. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. or pansophia. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. R. on a pansophic mysticism. as Frances Yates notes. and the outrageously baroque. or why. particularly in France. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . or intelligences. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. 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. who. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. discovered the “Enochian language. the Confessio. peaceful. was of a non-sectarian. John Dee (1527–1604). in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. as well as in subsequent literature.

The most obviously included is natural magic. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. herbalism. and Michael Maier. Pansophy. often with Kabbalistic influence. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. The pansophic view. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. and gnostic. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. Ruechlin. Christian or not. We might recall that. for instance. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. 1618)]. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. and inquiry into nature more generally. which is specifically Christian gnosis. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . It is true that chemistry. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. in order to form the basis for a new. alchemy. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. is universal. and technologism. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. Paracelsus. it emphasizes magic. or magia naturalis. mechanism. In many respects. cabala.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. derived from alchemy. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. alchemical. including.p. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. healing. 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. various forms of magic. The emergence of a pansophic approach to esotericism seems very much a counterbalance to the emergent extreme rationalism and materialism that also gave birth to scientism. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. in contrast to theosophy. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. 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. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws.. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. of course. cabalistic. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). magical. not specifically Christian.

But Chemistry]. even if it is illicit. including sorcery. planetary correspondences.A. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. Among the first of these. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy.O. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. diagrams.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. as a somewhat medieval figure. D. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. Cabball. Philosophia. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. including a French edition titled F.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. of vast and intricate tables. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. de La Rose-Croix. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. et Hyperphysica. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. we tend to think of Faust. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. Metaphysica. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. In some respects. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common.. chiefly under the title Physica. magic squares. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. 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. and much else. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. nee non Magia. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. in later Rosicrucianism. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. almost all. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. and a series of .M.

M.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. here we have a different focus.M. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. for instance.A. and Holy Spirit. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. marked also Father. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. 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 a map of the hidden aspects of the world.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. in visual form. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. or to Rosicrucianism. of its hyperphysical dimensions. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica.” “Heavenly Seed. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. And thus when we look at an illustration from D.” “Animal Seed. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm.O. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew.” and so forth. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies.A. in time and in eternity. that is. and with the word Chaos. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. of course. John Dee. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. . and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. Here. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr.O. the greatest occultist of his day.” “Vegetable Seed. partaking in both. for instance.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. surrounded by winged angelic forms. Son. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. in scholastic theology.” and “Mineral Seed. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D.

denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. but published only in German). stretching right into the nineteenth century. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. and specifically. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. originally a scientist. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. Freemasonry. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. which. 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. in other words. the social and political realm. invented an industrial process. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. (London: 1665). who studied minerology. not a visionary. One sees this also. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. unlike these other more individualistic movements. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). and associated with the vast . and literature in a spiritually centered universe. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. Another such figure. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. of course. theosophic. or the Temple of Wisdom. truly a Renaissance man. science. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. author of such works as Theomagia. of course. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). was John Heydon. not so very long ago. the arts. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia.

and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. in 1616 and 1617. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. the arts. Indeed. of course. having received a knighthood for his military service. Plato and the Bible. 1617). not surprisingly. Of course. John’s College in Oxford. on which he explicitly drew. 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. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. to a speculative. Like Paracelsus himself. of course. the Kabbalah. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. and Rosicrucianism. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. and although . Jewish. and the sciences. and during this time began work on his major treatises. Robert Fludd went to St. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism.” published in Leiden. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. his father. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. semireligious occult fraternity. 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. but the Freemasons endured the longest. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. Indeed. Such publication was. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. Masonry. Martianus Capella and. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. Sir Thomas Fludd. Fludd. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). 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.

for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. Ashmole. . one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. 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.60 Then again. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. Dr. 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. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. Marin Mersenne. By the early 1630s. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. Himself an alchemist. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. born to an aristocratic family. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. and back to England. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. and assiduous bibliophile. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. But in any event. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. 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.”61 But for our purposes. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. astrologer. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. Arthur Dee.” Elias Ashmole. John Dee. who had actually gone in search of the Rosicrucians (to the dismay of Mersenne) and Mersenne’s massive attacks on Hermeticism and Kabbalism as well as Rosicrucianism certainly influenced the emergence of what has come to be known as Cartesian rationalism. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. Dee’s son. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar.

never referred to it again.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole.”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.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. after recording this revelation. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. John Dury (1596–1680). and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. and only philosophers of the English Revolution.64 These three men. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . and John Comenius (1592–1690). one could ignore it. 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. It is significant that Ashmole. except to his own spiritual son. were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). of course.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. but they are in any case gnostic. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. of course. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. . If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. All of this. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. . using a symbolic metalanguage. the real . and must remain so. when Backhouse thought he was dying. or as Kabbalistic. Samuel. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. 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. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. The true name is hidden. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). although certainly that impulse was strong in him. . was not simply an antiquarian. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. . and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture.

2. Chymical. .” certainly a pansophic goal. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. 4. 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. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. The aim of a magical language is. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . However. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723).”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. Early in the eighteenth century. . . the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. according to the Constitutions. But most important for us is the final point. Arts and Sciences. needless to say. Philosophicall. Freemasonry. 3. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. and Mechanical. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . Such a language.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. Also important here is the third point. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. . like the symbolism of alchemy. .

In this oration. especially in England. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. a theosophic circle in London. fellow craftsman. while publishing numerous books. excepting only theology and politics. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. . luminous. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). solid. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. especially in France. nonsectarian basis. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. and indeed. In it. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). suppress. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. Italy. The work has already been commenced in London. . Masonic values of rationalism. including. it is not surprising that this project. Ramsay. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. announced in Ramsay’s oration. On the one hand. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. deism. and master mason. for instance. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. or ignore esotericism. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. fraternal Freemasonry. became prominent in French Masonry. 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.68 Within Masonry itself. great. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. with its general tendency to reject. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. And during this time.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. On the other hand. England. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. had an exoteric. After her death. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. .

I answer it was God in six Terminations.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. In other words. . from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. and six for the fellow craft. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. which is as follows: one word for a divine. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. based as it is on the craft of building. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too.8). Rosicrucian. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions.”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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. of human and divine architecture both. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. that is. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. As we have already seen. to wit I am.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. Indeed. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. theosophic. specifically. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. God has sealed the six directions of space. Freemasonry. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. by which.” In other words. even to this day. 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.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. six for the clergy. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. In the Graham manuscript of 1726.

Here. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. pansophy. Above all. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. Kabbalah. including humanity). joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. but as the actual medium linking humanity. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. Masonry. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. and the divine. Rosicrucianism. magic. in Western esotericism. of course. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. including alchemy. and Christian theosophy. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. not consume it. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. its secret “silable. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. not just as the means of communication among people.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. the theme of our next section. For according to Western esotericism generally. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos.” or signature. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. Finally. What is more. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. . or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. nature. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. And this role is played out through reading and writing. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. Here.

. 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 ) .

edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.). . oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. Theosophia Revelata.

. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. Theosophia Revelata.).

oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme.). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. . Theosophia Revelata.

C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o .Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph. Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. .

Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. (Frankfurt: 1784).C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum.Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o . as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye. .

Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . 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).

“The Music of Dawn. . 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. and the evocative. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work.Figure 9 Cecil Collins.

” 1976. “Paradise. .Figure 10 Cecil Collins.

and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. has brought the play’s action to an end. the magician Prospero. Which was to please. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. The Tempest. Now I want Spirits to enforce. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. Which is most faint. The main character. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. or else my project fails. dwell In this bare island by your spell. And pardoned the deceiver. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. And what strength I have’s my own.3 Modern Implications P R O S P E R O ’ S WA N D : M O D E R N E S O T E R I C L I T E R AT U R E In the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. Or sent to Naples.

As you from crimes would pardoned be. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. as audience. also a magician. Let your indulgence set me free. Suddenly. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. winged creature in an ornate room. and Freemasonry.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. in effect gives his wand to his audience. To incant is to enchant. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. Rosicrucianism. is to touch the nature of being itself. there are numbers. we realize that we. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. to sing or to say into being. Here. In this most magical of plays. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. for most of us. Conventionally. That is. Here Prospero. In all of these esoteric traditions. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. having relinquished his magical power. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. today. via the main character. where the poet-singer is. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. to invoke the forces of creation itself. is a prosaic matter.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). shows a tall. it is often inverted and does not . Initially. but there is no transference of magical power. often little more than the accumulation of data. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. are the magicians. letters. for example. standing above a reclining woman. Warlick. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. To be a vehicle for the right words. and words—often Hebrew. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. to the audience. traditionally. pansophy. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. and freed him. E. by virtue of his skill with words. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. Reading. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. for instance.

D.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Canticle of Knowledge: O. more . After a good education.. not only in the case of Ernst. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. the poet H. into the world of French intelligentsia. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. Naturally. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. during which time his family sold their estate. split further into sections on poetry and prose. and so I will not discuss them further here. Here. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. with sections on each of the major currents. of even greater value is a vertical. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. (1886–1961). it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. turning then to H. V. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). It is certainly worth doing. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. as with Emerson or Rilke. While a broad. more or less. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). as can in fact be said of the works of. for instance. D. sometimes explicitly.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. Milosz traveled widely. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. I will leave such a project for another time. his mother Jewish. and perhaps for someone else to do. horizontal survey is of value. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. and entry. sometimes more implicitly. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. to the magical fiction of C. secular or not. for instance. S. But his learning is of a particular kind. as with Yeats or H. However. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. D. V.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. third.

Eliot. Kabbalah. and became. Not so Milosz. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania.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. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. Milosz’s poetry. hell. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. Among these figures. come to fruition in literary form. also a tactile visionary. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. and both wrote in dry. and perhaps remains. and. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. William Blake (1757–1827). and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. of heaven. Swedenborg was. One can. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. create a kind of lineage of such figures. he experienced a spiritual illumination. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. in 1914. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. which are what concern us here. a Don Juanesque figure. as he saw it. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. S. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). in vision. and Western esotericism in general. for that matter. Goethe. theosophy. in fact. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. 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.” However. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. . Then. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. These Swedenborg saw. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. and the dwelling places of spirits. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism.

M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 91 Here it may be useful to remark on the kind of new science we see emerging in these writers. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine.”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. and in particular. to join up with ancient teachings. n’entendront rien à ces choses. the passionate pursuit of the Real. and especially in Milosz. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. and especially the figures we are discussing here. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. / Others. At this juncture. and like Blake. seems called upon.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. having asked. The canticle continues: “A ceux. on 14 December 1914. will understand nothing of these things. to awakening it in his reader.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. but indeed. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. seems bound.” telling us that “poetry. have received and already know. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. and also prehistory and archaic history. as the organizer of archetypes. the observer looks outward. ayant demandé.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being.]”7 .” which. Cartographers of consciousness. knowledge and love. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. on reçu et savent déjà. / Les autres. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. de science et d’amour. astronomy. that he anticipated a new poetry. crown of human knowledge. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. [For those who. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. thieves of joy and pain. through a new metaphysics. But the poet. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. qui. from the cosmos. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape.

all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. to the initiate. he continues. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here.” 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]. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. sel.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols.” writing that to understand the origin of language. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. salt. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. are merely thieves of love and knowledge.” Indeed. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. as well as the names of metals. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas.” We think that the sensible world is situated.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. soleil. water. addressed to the latter. and already know. sun. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. “meditation on the origin of language. But characteristically. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. sang. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . this “situated place. those who are not affirmers. from Pythagoras to Plato.]”9 In other words. but negators. eau. “their substance is nameless. not like “Patmos. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread.”8 This gnostic canticle is. blood. terre.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. 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.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. but it is not so. lumière.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. etc. 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.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. but truly fathers of sensible objects.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. earth. nor sons.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. / For these names are neither brothers. have received. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. light. ténèbres. but living. In fact. of course. ni les fils. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. darkness.

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.” There is the earthly gold. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . Adam. is the “key to the world of light. of love and of wrath. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. he calls us to the celestial gold. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil.” This distinction between truth and lie.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. Here. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. of the primal . [truth does not make sacred language lie: . / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. . For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel.” Simply that. 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. and the gold of celestial memory. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. of blessing and of desolation. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. that is. and only describes what he has seen.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. At such points. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. a revelation. And so it is here. 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. .” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. . le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. muet comme le plomb. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. Milosz exultantly writes.]”13 As we might recall. when Milosz addresses us directly. or in Milosz’s words. he tells us.” “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. mute as lead. . Milosz tells us again. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. he implicates us in the poem.

[C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. / étant dans le lieu même. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. hideous. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. and is the province of those who speak pure language. but “great trials of negation. / played with me as a father with his child. innocent. Milosz muses on his early poetry. and this is the “solar egg. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. [I am always in the same place. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. Thus. Luciferic brain]. this immense. for that matter. rather. of those who speak pure language. of light and darkness. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. In the concluding lines of the canticle. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror.” selfknowing.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. in theosophic tradition. we find a spiritual corporeality.” “the world of profound.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. different. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. and looked behind him. le seul situé.” We might recall that the mirror. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. delirious. Milosz writes. Milosz tells us.”15 Here we find.” an “eternity of horror. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. différent. / being in place itself.]” 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. and a kind of corporeality of language.]”16 See. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. the only one situated.” those “lands of nocturnal din. hideux.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. in the visionary writings of Böhme.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. wise. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood.” and “marrow of iniquity.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. not light and serenity of recognition. “the Father of Ancients.” “immense. chaste archetypes. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation.

again three times. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. as though the various elements of his mind were projected outward into a kind of initiatic psychodrama of the kind one also sees in ancient Hermetism or the Mysteries. I touch your brow. tender metal partners in marriage. le signe! [seven times for the past.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. and clothed with the sun. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. at its end. let us make the sign. innocents! [The parents sleep there. je te touche le front. tendres métaux époux. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. [1775–1802]). who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. but the descent into immense suffering and privation.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse.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. by the grace of inner vision. trois vois—le signe. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. Qu’ils sont beaux. [Dear child. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. is especially of interest to us here. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace.” is unquestionably alchemical. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. and since we have now known one another seven years. and for our three days to come. This poem. you speak the truth. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial.]” . the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. between the lightworld and the darkworld. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. “Master. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. Beatrix. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. but refers to an inner alchemy. et pour nos trois jours à venir. and his Hymns to the Night. Thus the canticle. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus.” replies Beatrix. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. to “tender metal partners in marriage.

but the adept replies. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. any more than are those of the adept.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. And in the conclusion of the poem. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. yellow.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. leaden and lachrymal. [Light of gold. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. partaking rather of a heightened. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. [My chains of constellations are broken.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. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. The woman in the poem. The alchemical . of course. He opens his eyes and is reborn. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues.” sinks to the depths. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. 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. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. is reborn!” Thus once again. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. charitée. charity. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. Beatrice. The adept watches. and to its incantory language. and black. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. “I believe it is. he comes back to life. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. tu te délivres. [It is life liberated. The Master forgives me. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. I tell you. and “Lumière de l’or. woman.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. white and pale blue. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. you liberate yourself. “I see only one.” while the “oil of blind corruption. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. Beatrix.]”21 It is. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream.

then? Undoubtedly. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. by a metallic red-hot egg. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. is also to participate in it. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. The incantory. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry.” a “faithful and pious narrative. the large cloud vanishes. after all. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). 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.” The line is the fourth verse. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. At the same instant.” Milosz’s commentary goes far.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. oneself. in what it reveals. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. in other words. 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. a light appears. or rather.” and that “In the author’s mind. . and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. as unemotional as nature. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. rests in a horizontal position. 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. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. perfectly awake. by Milosz. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. 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. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level.: initiate].M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. one senses vast expanses around one.

Milosz . thereafter. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. becomes rounder. and in this there is a kind of reversal. its brutal mass wars. one may even say. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. at this point. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. its secular hedonism and materialism. he is among the most erudite of poets. but this lengthy excerpt is sufficient to show that even a single rather mundane line in Milosz’s poetry has behind it far more experiential referents than we might ever have expected. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. just as he ignores and despises that world. stands still. because it springs from this archetypal reality. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. He insists that in order to understand. that. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. yet his erudition. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. referring to the reader as “my son. we must bow down. 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. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. meaning the archetypal realm. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. scientifically. though including many great poets. Without question. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. Such experience is of the truly situated.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. And authentic literature. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. It is perhaps useful. on which it alights like a crown. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. moving up a little. as he put it in his last poem of 1936.23 There is still more.

In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. [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. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. Swedenborg. alias René Descartes.” 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. Plato.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. Eugène Ledrain. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. Martinez de Pasqually. Claude de Saint Martin.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow.” 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.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.”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. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. 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. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. from Egypt up to today.” Milosz continued.” and .26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. the School of Alexandria. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. the mystical eighteenth century. Swedenborg.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. passing through the Pre-Socratics. sought in them peace of spirit. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal.

and art. Under the heading “Hiram. .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. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. . 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. 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 . King of the Unified World.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. Milosz held. my son. In his “Poem of the Arcana. the books open themselves to him. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. the universal regent of faith. science. if we may coin a word. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. Germany. the visionary poet. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. 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. King of the unified world. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. in short. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. words. inside the books of life and of knowledge. and books. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters.” in fact. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. as early as 1919. S. in 1938. for instance. Le Forestier. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. it is not books that we are waiting for. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. wrote for his poetry.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. Here. . Joseph de Maistre. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow.” which are far more extensive than anything T. Eliot. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. 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.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. Hiram. R. and the true poet. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. and Savoy. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book.

as we have seen. Religion and science. alias René Descartes. especially the dream of a world utopia. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. Indeed. “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. He writes that “Today. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. like all the continents and all the states of this world. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. relatively not distant.”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.” Here.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church.” 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. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. he brings in the theme that. in the sacred poem of the Arcana.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. aspire to holy unification.”32 Here. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . like spirit and matter. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. 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. who announced a coming millennium.’ announce their impending appearance. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore.34 And Milosz goes on to ask.

however. . a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks.”38 Such a group. Milosz wrote. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. being the Christ-figure. as we have seen. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. For us. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. the sciences. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life.” And in his little esoteric group. the “science of the divine. In his work. the other members being his apostles. Our group will have no more than twelve members. not to say grandiosity. with a white collar. The Master alone will wear a red cap. author of The Magus. and the arts via religion. sought the widest possible range.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.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. in his letter to James Chauvet. but explicitly Christian. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. in his work as in his private life. of political. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. among them its ritual dress. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. and that he deliberately. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. of course. I am the enemy of exteriorization.”39 These dreams of universality. de Lubicz. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. and scientific fusion. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. for instance. moral or social. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. 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 of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. religious. And there are numerous other such examples.

H. astrology. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. and essays. Indeed. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. Although we here will take our leave of them. today. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). D. D. which outlines the intertwining of H. In these efforts. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. we . D. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. psychic insights or visions. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. Lewis. Rosicrucianism. C. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. There are. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. D. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. but toward the future. and Kathleen Raine.. Charles Williams. Here. That H. little studied in academe. and a new golden age. 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. of course. not toward the present. novels. S. through his writing. Indeed. D. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. D. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. and Milosz.’s poetry. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. a relatively obscure figure. magic. Like Prospero in his final speech.’s life and interests. However. D. the Tarot. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. the poet H. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. numerology.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. but also for the universality of his aims.

was fascinated by numerology. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. D.. a cap of consciousness . I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). Woman in the Nineteenth Century. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case.’s early. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. D. overmind. For it seems clear from her poetry. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. Notes is a very unusual work. by recognizing that H. We should begin. In Esoteric Origins.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. D.”41 Although the major works by H.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. D. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. D. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. D. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. In his introduction to H. D. Likewise. And when we turn from Dickinson to H.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. D.. for H. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). But when we begin to look at H. and on the other Margaret Fuller. mind. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. however. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. D.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. save that in H. Margaret Fuller.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. like H.’s life it is repeated a number of times. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. as many critics have observed. H.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. astrology. “The Thistle and the Serpent. D. D. explicitly esoteric book. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift.

. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. fluid yet with definite body. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview.42 H. She places gnosis. engage in a union of love and intellect. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. a musician. Whatever else we may make of it. syncretic . She writes that to be a true artist. H. as primary to the true artist. That overmind seems a cap. perceive separately.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. H. D. . wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. a musician. Without doubt. transparent. indeed. . my forehead. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. Into that over-mind. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. D. which is possible for all. now. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. or anemone. The two work separately. one must. D.’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. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. She does write about a “vision of the womb. There are even traces here of Gnosticism.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. . She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. D. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. I visualise it just as well. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. jelly-fish. almost like two lenses.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. and third is the awakening into the overmind. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. we begin to suspect that this odd book of fragments is itself a kind of initiatic book of clues for those very coming artists of the overmind.”43 H. except through the intellect. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. It is like a closed sea-plant. contained in a defininte space. D. 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. H.’s work has feminist implications. is a gnostic with a small g. D. or awakening into the overmind. As we read on through Notes. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. second is the life of the intellect. a nonsectarian.” The minds of the lovers unite. affecting a little my eyes . yet make one picture. like water. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water .

” and of “the most profound philosophy”. is a false path.”48 All of this suggests that there is . develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. unlocked.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. boasting. D.” we “nameless initiates. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. helpers / of the One. D. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. dare more. / here is the alchemist’s key.” H. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity.47 In M.” She writes. spell.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances.” “arrogance. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. this. / oneness lost. / it unlocks secret doors. was lost in sea-depth. As a number of scholars have demonstrated.” H. as these entities are “healers. pitiful reticence. reversion of old values.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. / companions / of the flame.” In the next section. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. seek further. of the “alchemist’s secret.106 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gnostic whose primary emphasis is nonsectarian spiritual awakening. D. H. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. over-confidence.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. devour.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. Here. the overmind being above it. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. / born of one mother. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy.” “Tribute to the Angels. and H. . She writes “dare. too. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . prayer” for healing.”45 “Amen. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. E.” mind “floundered.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war.” And the section ends with “illusion. D. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson.” here.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. seek. for instance. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. D. In this respect. . All-father. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. she holds. madness. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. D. Amen. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. In Notes on Thought and Vision.

” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. this passage suggests the complexity. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. . The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. too little: I know. symbols of Psyche reborn. she is calling herself to a sacred task. continues. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. D.”50 Here H.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth.” . / in the light of what went before. / lead us back to the one-truth.”49 Thus.” whose “province is thought.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past. but also those who come after her. H. “patron of alchemists.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. conditioned to hatch butterflies .’s invocation of Hermes. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. devoid of life. D.” through painting or writing. artful and curious. but this. The words themselves may resemble boxes. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. too much. D.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. then writes: We have had too much consecration. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation.” “candle and script and bell. cryptograms. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. this has been proved heretical.” “invoke the true-magic.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. H. D. they are anagrams.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. / re-vivify the eternal verity. H. I feel the meaning that words hide. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. The next work in H. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. too little affirmation. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. In a well-known passage. D. / inventive. illuminate what came after. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. D. little boxes. . with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. this.

but whereas Rilke could not write during war. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. saw. John. I testify. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. so too can the poet be. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. we saw the tree flowering.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . the poet must “melt down and integrate. after all. reinvoked in a new form. the shattered glass of the past. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. D. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. in the high-altar of a ruined building. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This.” but re-awakened. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. it was an ordinary tree. we entered a house through a wall. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. D. H. is attempting in her poetry here. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there).52 These lines reveal many layers. like a ghost. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. D. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. in an old garden-square. and so too by implication can we be. was writing these poems. the conditions under which. D. H. indivisible Spirit.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. H. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. how is it you come so near.” One must “reinvoke. recreated by the poet. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation.

it is happening everywhere. symbol of Hermes.’s poetry. Hence H. In this context. music could do nothing with it. And this experience is gnosis.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. conveyed through the poetry.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. and even more overtly. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. H. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. D.’s poetry in general.’s “Tribute to the Angels. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. . Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). . one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. the next section is very important.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. alluded to. the divine feminine. / it was a sign. / it was the Holy Ghost—. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. the flowering of the wood.” This experience “was vision. D. 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. In it. nothing whatever. In H.’s vision. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. is a gnosis of the word. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. H. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. / . D. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. and Trilogy in particular. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. / the darkness of ignorance. with Saint Michael. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. D. This experience. D.

The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. Hermes is the patron of the artist. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate.” This refrain.” “she carried a book.110 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E appearing through Mary and through the ancient goddesses. D. the scribe. whether it is con- . 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. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. the thief. right into the final poem. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. They are not.” 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.” “Santa Sophia. D. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. / out of the cocoon. D. brought into paradise with Christ. to her astonishment. Rather. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. D. Sophianic spirituality was in H.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. the Bible. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. who is also redeemed.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa.” And She is also “Psyche. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. under her “drift of veils.” H.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. D. D. allied to Mercury also. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone.” she of the Bona dea.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. And She is “Holy Wisdom. for H. in the context of the three poems together. was a baptized Moravian. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. as we will see in more detail shortly. D. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. and that. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. obviously. and the thief. She who has been seen “the world over. the writer. D..’s own heritage. and H. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. the butterfly. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes.’s Trilogy. / who did not forego our heritage” [35].

the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. H. D. 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. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. D. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. Eliot and W. H. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. of mysticism. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. H. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. complete with H. D. The Gift. S. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Eve and Mary. It is not surprising. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism.’s own notes. fear. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . H. D. I suppose. that until 1998. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. however. D. Likewise.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself.” all are interwoven here. In her poetry. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable.” with the experience of Christ. What is more.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. we must turn to The Gift. Hermes and Christ. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. 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. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. To understand this mysticism more fully. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. B. as in the original.

or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. D. Rimius’s works. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. In other words. 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. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. D. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. . among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. in the middle of the eighteenth century. make clear this distinction. it was in fact in her blood. itself. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. D. & P. Linde. “Old Father Weiss. D. 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. her grandmother’s father. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. .112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years.”58 About such accusations.” of the “Arcana. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. though I must confess. Knapton. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. Rimius. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. was herself a baptized Moravian. in her notes. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . 1753). D. had done her research. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. Mysticism. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. H. In toto. H. H.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone.” or Jedediah Weiss. D. especially those now housed at Yale University. in . H. cited by H. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. D. and he was born in Bethlehem.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. Robinson. D. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. 1753). Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. 1794). deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. 1755). Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. We can see the extent and depth of H. 1909).

“There is no royal road into this kingdom. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. referring to Father. it does exist. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. 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. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda.. respected and highly respectable.” H. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. D. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. The novel. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. Mother. into The Gift. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. “you just stumble on it. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H.”59 There can be no doubt that Zinzendorf himself and his early circle held views that were seen as unacceptable by the German Protestant establishment at Dresden. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. .” She goes on: . But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. to initiate the reader. D. but also of the older poet H. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. writes. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. D. and Son. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. conventionally the church. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. 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. there was no hint of this exoticism. The Moravian Church. We were a small community. Hilda. D. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. and its doctrines as representing a pure.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. . The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. in short.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. D..

Hilda surmises. But really “live” it.” she told Hilda. 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. these are the keys. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. Then am I for a moment . can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. but there are no bees in it now. that is why it is so quiet. A word opens a door . we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. “The Secret. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. . keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. this is the game I play. and even here in her narrative. I mean. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. Egyptian . later learning it means Island of Wounds). . when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. Hilda’s grandmother. cut on a wall at Karnak. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). That is how it is. I mean. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. . But there is more. it is what the novel does for H. . Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . A word opens a door. The word is like a bee-hive. as some scholars seem to think. but Hilda (and along with her. In chapter 5 of The Gift. it is like that little flower that Mrs. “Christian had left the Secret with me. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. considerably more of this theme to unpack. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning.60 This concept of a word opening a door into the lives of one’s ancestors and into spiritual mysteries is at the very center of The Gift.” The first is when Mamalie. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. These spiritual mysteries are not. men play a greater role than women. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. 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. in some aspects of the story. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. . the word stops. Williams called a primula. The other bees have gone. Island of Wonders. indeed. . I am the last bee in the bee-hive. Rather. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. D. I was afraid the Secret would be lost.

. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. this laughter that ran over us. it was the laughter of the water.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.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. in particular the Shawnee.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. indeed. done in their picture-writing. but all of them. Greek. though. the answer given by the Spirits. it is not a confabulation of H. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. was to decide the future of the whole country . D. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. kept in a birch-bark case.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples.” “the laughter of leaves. . had a name for. so that “It was laughing. She and her . Hebrew. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. of wind. is not Europe but North America. of snow swirling. laughing all the time. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit.62 Like the Templars. said Mamalie.63 In The Gift.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. bore the names of Cammerhof. though. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality.” not just Minne-ha-ha.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. “like scales running up and down. Mamalie continues. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place.’s. altogether. Pyrlaeus.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. but this was untrue. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. This rapport is historically verifiable. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed.” This scroll. According to Mamalie. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes.

is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. said in her fragmented narrative. those hiding in the attic burned alive.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel.”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. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. or Wounded Island. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda.” as “Aryan. 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. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. so much so that she never played music again. who was to die at twenty-five. In 1755. domination. Wunden Eiland. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. Mamalie. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. And yet in the very final passages. having “burnt it up. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. In her notes. called “New Gnadenhütten.”69 The two worlds have become one. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. D. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. raining down terror from the skies. and then. At the novel’s conclusion. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. in an even more attenuated form. 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. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. H. The Gift.” 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. . where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. decoded it and she played it. And in a subsequent event. Christian Seidel.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic.

she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. D. not merely as decorations.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. her work suggests that past. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. Likewise. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. Her interest in spiritualism. In this context. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. and future continually intermingle.V. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. D. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. In her poetry and fiction. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. D. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. H.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. D. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. singing of the Wounds. as well as of timelessness and time.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. both poetic and fictional. there. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. but as integral to her work. the more deeply one looks into her works. H.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word.’s English present. present. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. But above all. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. 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. past and present.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. H. Among major twentiethcentury authors. H.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. and out of which all great work is generated.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. . and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. H. D. As we have seen. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. one of the original Moravian initiates.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. for instance. D. Indeed. In her profoundly ambitious works. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum.

timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. outlined in entirety. the Light-bringer. legendary Provence. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. Lilith.118 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E she found an esoteric religious perspective that recognized the divine feminine in the form of Sophia.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. D. and contemporary London. We cannot conclude without reference to H. as history tells us. and its implications. parted in the dark. to be sure. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. Vale Ave. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. D. in his pre-Eve manifestation. H. meeting and parting. late Rome. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. as Adam. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. early seventeenth-century England. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. has the same root derivation as Seraph. true we had met in sudden frenzy. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. yes. may be Angel or Devil. Elizabeth recalls him to her. but at the same time. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. H. dynastic Egypt. whom we invoke as Lucifer. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. The Lucifer-Lilith. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. After his death. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. through time—specifically. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. D. although: I hardly knew my Lord. through her fiction and through her poetry. Mystery and a portent.71 . Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. but it was only in her later work that we see it. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity.

but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction.’s lifetime of work.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. D. I would like to explore not the art of magic. but for our purposes the most important is the foregrounded theme of male-female spiritual alchemy that “may be applied to all men and women.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. the “springs gone under the hill. D.” 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. 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. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. 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. Here. taken in toto.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. the Writing.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. . it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams. Her poetry and her prose.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. But my . Of course. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. “the Mystery.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H.” 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 mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. as in poetry. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. and the Scroll.” the holy presences withdraw. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . here again “the words laugh. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. The dead are living still. .” the mysteries of the holy well. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. / infinity portrayed in simple things.

here. an alteration in the Primary World. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth).” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. “The Descent of the Gods.” which might best be translated as “magic. R. Let us take an example. R.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. C. they will unmake all Middle Earth. C. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. it remains distinct from the other two.” “Their naked power. R. S. and so forth. it is not an art but a technique.” says Ransom. R. Lewis. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. His main character. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. fay or mortal. “one who by his own will once opened it. “That is why they will work only through a man. Viritrilbia. invokes the Oyéresu. Tolkien. Magic produces. 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. and the descrip- .” But later in the same essay. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. saying “I have become a bridge. or Venus. or pretends to produce. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. John Ransom. J. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin.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. Here. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. the “true powers of Heaven.” replies Ransom.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. things are not nearly so clear cut.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. or Mercury.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. seems reasonable enough in theory. as one might imagine. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. domination of things and wills. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. J. S.” “Sir. yes.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. and Charles Williams). Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. when we turn to actual works. its desire is power in this world.

outspeeding light: it was Charity . sweet-scented and full of desire. deafened. . whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. here. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. ready to kill. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus.” “He would have known sensuously. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers.” the narrator tells us. ready to die. and the Blue Room. unmitigated. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. 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 . . lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. . so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. In this chapter. . calling down the powers.”80 It is not really possible. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. . then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. sharp. in which none other than the ancient . sticky gums . . They could not bear that it should continue. bright and ruthless. until his outraged senses forsook him. scorched. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. brisk merriments. They thought it would burn their bones. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. were it possible. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. They experience “needle-pointed desires. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. . They could not bear that it should end. They were blinded.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 121 tion of this event is one of the most extraordinary evocations of magical working in literature. where the invocation has its center. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. 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. . In the beginning of the chapter. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive.”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. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house.

Therefore . to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. and by its end. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. Anne’s. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. and one with Merlin and Ransom). though one could easily imagine it so. and the Director (Dr. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. The invocation takes place.”81 I cite this prosaic finale precisely because it is so deliberately ordinary: it brings us back completely from the magical atmosphere of the novel’s main body to mundane life. she sees that clothes are piled inside. one with ordinary people. In other words. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. in a “secondary world” of fiction. “Obviously it was high time she went in. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. of course. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. 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. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. In so doing. About Williams’s novels.” the seventeenth chapter. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader.

and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. and how therefore the reader is in . both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. I wrote it. . In effect they are initiations. . and her observations are revealing. they unveil the power of archetypes and. For that. I have put a great deal into it. 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. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. [Emphasis added. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. Who and what is Lilith. 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.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. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. and decidedly corrupt ones. [Emphasis added. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. By doing so. for in the act of reading. almost cathartic effect. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. it is possible to respond to the quality of good.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. they reveal forms of necromancy. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. allow us to enter into worlds generated by questions like: what if the Holy Grail were discovered to be physically real? Or: what if the Platonic archetypes began to “break through” into this world? In brief: Williams’s fiction is often initiatory. in fact. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. On the other hand. in general. not find it very entertaining. to find out what it was about. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. It was not written for its entertainment value. I am afraid. one is also encountering new realms of existence. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. for instance. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic.

and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. but Fortune was.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. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. a shabby. badly lit and ill-tended room. Fortune’s novel. 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. like all of her . the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. In the novel’s seventh chapter. and imagined myself speaking to him. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. In some respects. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. untidy. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. putting my cards on the table. It does not matter to me what it is called. and I seemed to be in a strange room. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. the side She turns away from earth. that is to say. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. 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. 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. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. I made the astral projection by the usual method. magicians call it magic. not surprisingly. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. after all. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. which is the dark side of the Moon. for it is effectual. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. She gave rise to the character Lilith. appears clearly in her novels. The magic worked. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. who is Moloch. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing.

Rhodes. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose.”85 And so the book concludes. for. . Rhodes. was consummately the logician. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. for I was one with them . at the end of the story. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. Thus Rhodes. and many others.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. “in all things there was a profound difference.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. 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. to “enter the Unseen. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. but perhaps most interestingly. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. As a character. Marius. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. I had passed over into the Unseen. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). Taverner is patterned after Holmes. a young woman named Ursula . a fellow named Fouldes. 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. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. but I shared in their life. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. The Secrets of Dr. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. like Taverner. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. I was no longer alone. Holmes. . who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. Taverner. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr.” 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.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. one will recall. Not only were they alive. After his entry into the Unseen.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate.

in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. and in another moment the room was empty .’ replied Murchison. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. ‘That is very much that. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. ‘so that’s that. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. . and her half-brother. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. banked and double-banked. He was experienced in dealing with such things. and. . ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. In That Hideous Strength. ‘Well. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. suddenly.’ said Brangwyn. but then Murchison. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it.’ Brangwyn concluded. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. they were getting it in the neck. but also logically. pure selfishness.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. they are without morality. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). . became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. Yet paradoxically. . It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. Of the two books. cold and merciless. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . an experienced magician. like Astley in The Winged Bull. a bear of a man. The strange. there are also depraved black magicians. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. .’ ‘Yes. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. breaking the embarrassing silence. Frost and Wither are without mercy. The girl he could do nothing for. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. Then. among them men named Frost and Wither. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn.

89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. Williams. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. In all of the fiction we are considering here. but later called the Community of the Inner Light.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 127 This is not merely a cliché: in order for the magical drama to go forward. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. at the end of The Secrets of Dr.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. 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. helped by appropriate texts. . 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. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. . and Fortune. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. in this kind of fiction. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). S.90 . who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. There is. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. 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. and thanks to that. Taverner. there are two kinds of magic— black and white—and the dramatic power of these novels emerges from the reader’s initiation into the existence of both. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. experience of magic. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. either alone. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . Whether or not a disciple has a master. Lewis. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. powers both good and evil. But Charles Williams and even C. or with the help of an initatory.

as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. if we may so put it. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. 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. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. a mesocosm possessing its own geography.” and thus to written works like novels.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. Third. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. active imagination is essential. In fact. Indeed. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. Such a tension corresponds. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. .”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. 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.” What conclusions can we draw. 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 magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. in literary form. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. Williams. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities.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. Finally. then. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. Second. 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. thoroughly real.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. 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.

higher aspects of nature and humanity. held in London’s Tate Gallery. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. and his writings reveal in detail his . It was not until 1994 that Brian Keeble brought out an edited book of Collins’s writings under the title The Vision of the Fool. It is in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength that the reader can perhaps most powerfully encounter the transmuting power of artistic beauty expressing ritual magic that. E. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden.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. Thus. Still. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. but also in Böhmean theosophy. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. As we have already seen. which is why I have chosen to study them together. an important and genuinely original British painter.. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. in the sense of Rilke. transcendent and perhaps. but with the publication of this book. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. angelic realm. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. Theosophic illustrations in particular. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. Collins was a gifted aphorist. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. indirectly or directly. and that like his contemporary poet. 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. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. there remain fundamental differences. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany.

so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. But you exist. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. A frustration of all that which is growing. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand.” or again. of his solitary walks in the countryside. the human being.” Ordinary life in the natural world. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. we are all exiles. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. 1945. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. is imbued always with spiritual significance. A winter of the spirit is over all society. But here I wander. and my life with you.” 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. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. 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.’ must make intellectual connections individually. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. In “Hymn of Life. I remember you. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . [14 January. for he must ‘leap the gaps.95 In 1965. I long for my kingdom. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. denies all who have inward fruit. Our time denies. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. I long for my race. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. for Collins. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. and I know nothing.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. Totnes. to come to fruition. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. the contemplative. Denies the artist. of all that which desires to give. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. I know of your existence.

It can only be known by inner nuance. . This is the same thing actually.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. rapport. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. the meaning. by measurement or analysis.97 Works of art.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 131 who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. but only by rapport with those worlds. . and the making of money. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. 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. 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[. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. awaken this inner rapport in us. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. For like answers to like and creates actualization . .] art is therefore an instrument of man’s inner nature and it enables him to manifest in the phenomena of matter the nuance and living quality of his inner life so that his environment is no longer neutral or alien: a rapport is established. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. the instrument of art helps to sensitise the interior nature and to continually re-sensitise it when it grows stale and dull in the world of mere existence—the world of repetition. in Collins’s view. The value of the artist is not to decorate. by description.

. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. and that is the eye of the heart. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. But there is something else that has to be opened. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. the answer comes back to us from within them. we have no canonic culture of our own. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. trees. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. and transmuted. we have communion with it[. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. canonical religions and ritual. In the past.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. in a “time of the apocalypse. ‘Everything that lives is holy. canonic language.98 The work of art. We are all apt to fall asleep. and what is more. in Collins’s view. rocks. spiritu- . and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art.” 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. religious. in Collins’s view.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[. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. We live. it becomes qualitative. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. his inner world.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. of mere desires. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. the elements. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. he writes.” In his final remarks.’ In other words. the opening of man’s inner nature.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. . widened. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. the unveiling of the atom.

too. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. and vibrant color. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. hieratic quality. Many of these images have a strange. Often. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. by patterns on the limbs and torso. Here. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. dreamlike. 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. as in many of his visionary paintings. such as “The Invocation” (1944). like “Angels” (1948).” 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. a union of figure. To gaze at this painting is to . The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. landscape is transformed as well. to the left the orb of the sun. in “The Invocation. In many of his later paintings. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. but that is uplifting and paradisal. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. not afraid to wound the heart. and the other with the light. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. an active support.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. the one with the sword. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. her head bent back and contemplative. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. 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. the figures’ eyes are opened. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. make it bleed.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. landscape. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized.

so that God becomes a table. In this respect. and poems that illuminate his paintings. H. or altar. like an electrical transformer. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience.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. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. Meditations. . and indeed. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images.. but also essays. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. that like Milosz. D. In another book. Poems. Lost paradise and . not least because his work includes not only images. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. And it is also clear.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. Divine Reality. Here. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. In all of these works. but central. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. chair. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. by which we make contact with reality through images .101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. his drawings. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. he is like very few other painters. aphorisms. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. Indeed. he offers through his paintings. D. we then have ‘sacred space.. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. as in the works of Milosz and H. a world between us and it. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. in Collins’s view. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. . in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. But Collins offers these through visual images. Collins wrote in this book. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal.’ sacred images. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997).

The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. as Dionysius himself points out. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. It is. For in our overview of Western esotericism. Thus our third point: that . and the arts in written form. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. of course. or mere entertainment. and the via negativa. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. or way of negation. Strictly speaking. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. what we find is in fact the via negativa. the way of images and forms and transformations. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. and awakening gnosis.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. although they may contain an element of play. but rather. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. or way of affirmation. to the conjunction of spirituality. as a means of transmitting knowledge. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. for instance. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. these are the themes of these great artists. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. First. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. science.

between the human and natural realms. Western esoteric traditions. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. hidden. In a modern worldview. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. plant extracts. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. the divine.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. works only by reference to this third element. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. and the divine. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. D. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. In modern education. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. But in Western esoteric traditions. Ideas. or Symbols. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. between humanity and the cosmos. sociology. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. history.’ the divine. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes.’ quantifiable knowledge. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. And Western esoteric literature. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. Rather. sometimes called by Böhme the . and there is sheer transcendence. and so on. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. chemistry. ‘third element. on the other hand. there is only the division between self and other. the cosmos. Here is the essential division between a modern.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. geology. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. psychology. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos.

in order to create. alchemy.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. The aim of the esoteric . In brief. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. or Fullness. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. is in fact prophetic. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. a divine mathematics. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. a theologian. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. meaning by that not absence. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. and by others the Nothing. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. often seen as androgynous. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. and his fall from paradise. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. Rosicrucianism. first. Adam. a mythologist. The artist. but nothing. we find a divine art and a divine science. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. For the purpose of such literature is. cosmology. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. This archetypal realm. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. in this worldview. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. an artist. biology. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. by definition a ‘seer. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. In all of these traditions. Thus the artist. or any of the other major esoteric currents. and literary expression. and a chemist. theosophy. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. the absolute unity of subject and object. for all three of these poets. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma.

Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. author of The Magus. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. a theosopher. 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.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. Rosicrucian. theosophic. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. . and indeed as Yeats pointed out.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). magical. 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. In this perspective. Hence. and Masonic illustrations. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. which is to say. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. for instance. where it arguably sparked the entire . drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. the language of creation itself. or a pansoph. and notarikon.’”102 Likewise. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. temurah. almost always denoting divinity. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. whether a Kabbalist. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. an alchemist. even from a single letter. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. pansophic. .

it may be the “Book of Nature. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. following the various currents through Kabbalism. . it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. magic.” or the “Book of Revelation. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. and especially of written language and of the book. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. theosophy. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. 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. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language.’ and this is not necessarily so.104 Obviously. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. certainly it may be the Christian . 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. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. consequently.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been.” or the “Book of Life”. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. in their cosmogonic mythologies the genesis of a new world was conceived principally as a glottogenetic process: the creation of new language obtained the paramount role in the realization of a new ideal world of the future. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. generally speaking . and Masonry. . Social Realism. Futurism. influenced much of modern Russian literature. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. when surveying the various esoteric currents.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and.

But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. and what is more. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. where the tradition . there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. and so on back into antiquity. for instance. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. However. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. interrupted. Given our overview. or masters. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. and Geber. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. Islam. which indeed still finds them audiences today. or in Buddhism. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. and indeed even farther back. much less in Christianity specifically. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. Indeed. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. In Hinduism or Buddhism. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. 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. 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. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. Hermes. 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. Even in the case of alchemy. but rather relied upon the written word. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. or nonexistent.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. gurus.

hieratic.’ or ‘data’. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. By contrast. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. and in particular at its strange. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. initiatory. often strikingly beautiful. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. are not simply decorations.’ a means of conveying ‘information. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. of course. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. 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. Somehow. In modern parlance. V Milosz. dreamlike language and imagery. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. Milosz. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. whatever one . but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. who. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. to some future initiate in a far century. One thinks here. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. in addressing this far-off “son. Christian theosophic literature. may think of his poetry. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. for in all cases. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. I believe. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. Such a view of the written word is. but who rather offered the world only written works. of Abraham Abulafia. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. naturally. These illustrations. Let us take another example. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. particularly the works of Böhme. Indeed. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. have been adorned with copious illustrations. when we look at the writing of Milosz. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. Such evocation is.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. but . who never revealed themselves publicly at all. That is to say.

but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. it is more immediate and visceral. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. tending. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence.106 To explain this phenomenon. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. in other words. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. the lightworld of paradise. For instance.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. represented by a cross. Taken together. Rather. Such an illustration. This metaphor—of sowing.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. In my view. What is more. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation.” or Wisdom. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. that is. for instance. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. I use the term ahistorical continuity. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. so there is no need here to repeat myself. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. and over time those seeds can take root. through the turbulence of earthly life. which refers to . the dark-world of hell. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. In this way. reaping. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. by gazing at such an image. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. theosophic. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. Obviously. pansophic. does have an initiatic function—that is. marked also “Sophia. and flower in the reader too. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. grow. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both.

I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. for example. Thus. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. 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. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. Perhaps. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. . This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight.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. Such a reader joins with the author. you truly will know its worth. If. the daily news. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. After all. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. and are in earnest. this function must be a change in consciousness. as I am suggesting. it can reëmerge in another. Naturally. . so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. and who have a desire to begin. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . leave untouched the precious Names of God . one might even say impossible. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. or a biology textbook. if you wish to use this little book aright. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. Here.’ 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. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. instead. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness.

” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. a prayer for noon.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. judgemental consciousness. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. 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 a prayer before sleep. but the “instrument of God.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. a prayer for the evening. it walks in its own delusion. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. but. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. Then that thing. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. not by merely mouthing the words.”107 Or again. to become a channel for the divine current. which it sees as divine. or has knowledge-of. and for when one rises. one automatically is caught in delusion. this objectifying delusion.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning.” or objectified realm. in his “Warning to the Reader. and so on for the entire week. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. . the source from which they emerge. and second.” “Be rightly warned. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. a prayer for one’s daily work. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. and become not its own possession. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. a prayer for washing and dressing. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. he tells us. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us.” If on the one hand. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. and experience the divine directly.

in Western esotericism generally. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. Indeed. or divided from the divine. or perceiver and what is perceived. There is simply awareness. conversely. the origin not only of language. in that there remains an observer. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. at the far limit of what we can express in language. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. as we have seen. in the archetypal realm there is . If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. then language must reflect this division. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. or the divine eye that sees itself. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. as are nature and humanity. in other words. love and wrath. There emerges a spacious or open quality. between the divine and the natural. the self in one sense continues to exist. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. the yes and the no. Above. we have the point of origin. of course. For language is in its innermost nature divine. but of the cosmos itself. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. or subject and object. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. although there are divisions between archetypes. 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. the light and the dark. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. there is no sense of separation between self and other. Here we are. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth.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. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. divine in its origin. just as. where. In other words.

esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. in these esoteric traditions. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. which is rife with the language of objectification. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. nature. or separation into self and other. transformative. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. Language. for after all. secular. and objectified worldview. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. For Western esotericism. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. By contrast. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. The massive machine of the modern technological. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. and so forth. consumerist state was built from a materialist. During this . But by the late twentieth century. and the participatory. 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 gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. in modern literary theory or theories of language. 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. the divine is perforce unmentionable. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. Undoubtedly. or manifest more indirectly in literature. but never owned. 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.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. suppression. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. and the divine. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. secular.

and the divine. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. magic or theosophy. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. scientific or otherwise. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. which is to say. and the arts. the Lullian art. nature. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. including elements of the sciences. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. religion. in theosophic works. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. inner territory. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. L I T E R AT U R E . To this we now turn. of awakening latent. psychology. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. too. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. but also for society itself. troubadours and chivalry. at least for some. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . after all that we have surveyed. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. to name only a few. A R T.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. profound connections between humanity. As we have seen throughout this study. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. But to begin to explore this new. Buddhism. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. If so. 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. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. in particular.

This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. as we have seen. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. rejoicings. In his book Song and Its Fountains. . The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. E. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. The poet’s psyche. and indeed. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. A.”111 Unconscious of creation. To use Plato’s metaphor. to turn to a poet. E. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. as the seers tell us. not the life of shadows. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. (George William Russell. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. E. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. E. In this view. Indeed. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. at this juncture. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. . but of reality. beyond history. Naturally. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. a friend of Yeats. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. In this esoteric view of literature. A. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. . he tells us. ascends to “that high state where. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. joys. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. 1867–1935). images. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. 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. to write presupposes already having seen. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. But A. It may be of use.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. he simply began to murmur line after line. 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 . and the divine. A. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. found throughout Western history. nature. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis.

focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. E. gone inward into itself. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. B. perhaps surprisingly. A.”113 This movement of consciousness A. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. it draws nigh to its own divine root. E. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. but all was a motion in deep being. the creation of poetry in A.”114 A far exile from that glory. Yet A. analyzes the movement of consciousness. There was neither sight nor sound.”115 He understood something of the psyche. E. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. “I have. later discussed with W. and after that images. as Ishtar in the Chaldean myth had crown and scepter and the royalty of her robes taken from her when descending from heaven to earth.”116 Still. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. Yeats. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. recognized his limits. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. E. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. from a descent after an ascent. E. A. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. A. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. A. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. and song. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. the poet.” he wrote. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. even if unaware of precisely how or why. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being.” he wrote. E.” Thus. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. “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.”117 For this reason. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. looks upon the poet as a prophet. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. E.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. but of the universal spirit he understood little. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. though too often they have not kept faith . was later translated into words.

150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible .” The psyche. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. as did the sybils of old. In essence. In Christian theosophy. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. But at times they still receive the oracles.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. when it becomes truly self-conscious. 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. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). without knowing it. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. the further we come out of the animal Nature. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. they come “trailing clouds of glory. . E. may.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. Thomas Bromley. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. returns to the cave of constrained or dulled ordinary life to create written works that are themselves also permeated with the seer’s visionary realizations. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. 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.” And there is more.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. the view of literary creation that A. for instance. E. E. characters they had never met in life. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. . in that solitude we may meet multitude. E. or division into self and other. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion.”121 These insights of A. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. And A. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. when we seem most alone. Throughout our investigations. A. . because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. and they wove into drama or fiction. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. 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. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification.

irrespective of time or distance—and A. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. and experiences. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. absorbed completely in a book. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. But nonetheless. the poet is more like a receiver.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. although there is still an observer and what is observed. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. Likewise. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. symbols. In this realm. there also is participation in what is observed. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. in A. E. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. for instance. he may encounter unfamiliar figures.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. say. In the first case. at least temporarily. the book or work has been separated from its writer. more powerful.’s case. and between the models that they represent. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. Of course. the author also is not directly present. events. and so requires our sympathetic participation. and nearer both to Heaven. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. and we must. as if we knew them as neighbors. One experiences great bliss. In Bromley’s case. and taken on a kind of life of its own. Reading. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. E. which no earthly Distance can hinder. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. in between both author and reader. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. as if by happenstance. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. passive. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. by A. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. or drama. For who. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. fiction. We are carried along on the words of the author. One becomes what one sees. like theater. on the other a visionary poet. which later emerge in poetry. E. where. a novel. in the latter case. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. and the world is shot through with light. or of Captain Ahab. and to one another in the Internal. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination.

and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. . The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. the visions of the theosophers are real. Of course. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. of course. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. and one enters into the new birth. for example. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. one turns away from the painting. writing. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. Ordinary. The difference.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. one 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. but eventually puts the book down. or to have it stricken. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. whereas the esotericist is. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. and in Kabbalistic practice. And indeed. playing for keeps. 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. habitual self is gone. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. in alchemical work. we might reverse the terms. and one has entered a new world. fiction. existing in a supraphysical dimension. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. We see this in the Book of Revelation. For when a reader engages in a literary work. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. magic is real. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. our authors tell us. symbolizes eternal conditions. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. and books. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. essays. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. 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. By contrast. drama. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. Perhaps. 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. presumably.

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. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. Jane Leade. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. the gnostic. But fundamental questions remain. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. Nicholas . and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. Ramon Lull. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. the alchemist. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. the Kabbalist. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. or Kabbalists—by self-election. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. fiction. Meister Eckhart. is to attain paradisal immortality. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. Jacob Böhme. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. but there is much more to be done. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. R. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. Thomas Bromley. in the process of creating a fictional world. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. Johannes Tauler. If a primary aim of the alchemist. Secret Societies. R. lives on. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. the Kabbalist. but what came into existence through him. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. and may even connect profoundly with each other. John Pordage. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. Abraham Abulafia. gnostics. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. their works like second nature. Yet at the same time. so too is the author. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. the literary work.

help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. taken together.” It may well be. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. the author is reaching out.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. but in every case. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. esoteric or not. and consciousness. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. In being. for as I have discussed elsewhere. moreover. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. therefore. and indeed even God himself. 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. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. Berdyaev tells us. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. 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. in the . 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).154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. “add it to his own arsenal of power. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. literature. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. precedes all being. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. to in Emerson’s words. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. to be guided by the author. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure.124 The Ungrund.

“it is an end of this world. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God.” he writes. or to put it another way. 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. fictional. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. “Creative activity. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. the artist. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. issues from existential eternity. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. Coming from a Buddhist perspective.” and “is the beginning of a different world. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. and its expression in human creativity.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. the artist. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. of creativity. and therefore of division. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. It is knowledge. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. a different sort of knowledge. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. As Berdyaev points out. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. particularly the arts of literature. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. and especially on the . Nishitani Keiji.

or perhaps better still. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. the choices of the will. In Nishitani’s work. and has the effect not of separating. of course. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. . but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. This intensifies our narcissism. “an equality in love. what is the same thing. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. in other words. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. emerges authentic freedom. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. What . Yet there is another field that is not nihility.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. Nishitani. egoistic mode of being. and indeed. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. that is. self-identically. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. and us from them. . and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . for faced with nihility. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. begins where we all are: with our ordinary.” Authentic freedom is. one retreats into self even further. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. The force of destiny is at work here. is beyond definition.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . . . .” an “absolute openness. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. . the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. Nishitani affirms. As rational or personal beings. or rather in unison. As we have seen throughout this study. or the emptiness of all things. While this is our own act.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. it is not something we are free to do as we please . Out of this transcendence alone. self-centered consciousness. This is the field of shunyata. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously.”128 True emptiness.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. or “true emptiness.

’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. have at their center this mystery of the word. or even linguistic construction. write and are written. . with nature. Paradoxically. But in any case. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. language is indeed divine. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. We read and are read. as the sense of self and other diminishes. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. seen as a whole. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. The Western esoteric traditions. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. including paintings. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. joined together with one another. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. so Western esotericism suggests. It can lead us. political. a calling toward what we are meant to be.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. anything that can be read or written. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence.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. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. for all their diversity.


much of it in French. mostly by North American scholars. 4. See also the journal Esoterica [www. See Arthur Versluis. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. See “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. 1994). whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. For an overview of Western esotericism. ibid. ed. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. ] for articles. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. 3.Notes INTRODUCTION 1.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. in this field.esoteric.. Faivre. 2. the official Web site of the ASE. See Steven Katz. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. a Dutch scholar. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. see Antoine Faivre. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. 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. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. 1992). 159 . including Wouter See Hanegraaff.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. 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.esoteric.msu. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism.msu. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought.

and Mysteries (New York: Harper. 1973). Paul. 4. 2000). Nag Hammadi Library. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. cit. pp. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 219–233. Paul: Grail. 76–106. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. . “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. (London: Sheldon. 12. 3. 9. 14. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. 307. 2. 5. Gnosis and Literature (St. p. p.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. pp. 11. Paul: Grail. 1975).. whether they know it or not. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. 1992). pp. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. See Charbonneau. 14–21. 10–15. 2000). Ramon Lull. 6. trs. See Arthur Versluis.. p. p. pp.. 2000). ed. 223. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. 83 ff. 1978). All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. 309.. 248. 140. E. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. 1974). op. 37 ff. eds. pp. 151. p. Myths. Mircea Eliade. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 2. 145. 18 ff. Paul: Paragon House. Peers. See Versluis. Paragon House. p. Dreams. 5. 1863).. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St.. pp. 1986). 3. Sophia. 1965). see also Scholem. 8. See Gershom Scholem. Ibid. Translation is mine. pp. See Frederick Goldin. Victor Sogen Hori. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. 7. See Faivre. 13. Nag Hammadi Library. See Versluis.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. p. 1999). see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. See ibid. CHAPTER ONE 1. p. 51–89. Jean La Fontaine. pp. See. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. 1996). John Pordage. in Arthur Versluis. CHAPTER TWO 1. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. 1991). 111. 97. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. 180. 10. 4. pp. p.

280.. 1988). 29. Gershom Scholem. Ibid. p. See Pico della Mirandola. 197. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ibid. Origins. et al. 34.. 49–50. 1983). trs. Origins. 1961). Ibid. Cassirer.. 33. p.76. 26. 101–102. Origins. 17.. 8. 298 ff. 1964).. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. I. p... 197. 1969). Tristan. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel.. A.77. ed. 9. C.C. pp. 14.80 ff.312. as well as Antoine Faivre and F.. 28. 66. and Françoise Secret. 1979). Ibid. Doctor Illuminatus. 11.. I. Twersky.205b. (London: Soncino.. ed. see also Scholem. 52.. p.. 38.71. 21. p. trs. op. M.331. 1953) I. See A. 394. 15.351. pp. Ibid. 278. p. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. in The Zohar. I. Ibid. Simon. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. Ibid. for instance. 18. I. II. See Arthur Edward Waite. 19. See Verman. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. 36. 10. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Opera omnia. Bonner. Dan. Ibid.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. 31. 59. Zohar IV . (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. See J. p. 16. I. p. p. op. 27. 1779). p. ed. 7.. cit.320–323. IV . See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. Scholem. I. p. 35. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. p.. II. 1987). 1992). 57. eds. 22. op. cit.. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. See Moshe Idel. ed. See Scholem. see also Moshe Idel. Ibid. 1965). p. p.. 30. 29. 23. II. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. Vasoli. 20. See Mark Verman. Joseph Blau. 51. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. See Verman. II. Cassirer.314.75. 1984). Ibid. cit. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. 61. Ibid. 13.B. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. Ibid. p. 25. (Hildesheim: Olms.. 24. Ibid. See. Ibid... 270. ed.. . 32. 1985). I. Ibid.205b–206a. p. 37.. 246. 12. 57.325. 1986). p. 250.

49. I have translated this work of Pordage. 67. for the reader’s convenience. p. Confessio. 77.. II. 51.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39.. a theologian. 1966).. p. Josten.. 1784). The Alchemy of Art. p. . op. a musician. .. and also written an extensive commentary on it. 55. including two physicists. p. 1998). p. 45.P. p. See Frances Yates. ms. 62. 37.681. 242. 260. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. 54. cit. 221. Fama. See. Hall. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. 371. for background. p. 220. 251. Ibid. Secret Societies. Frances Yates. 48. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. Fama. (Cassel: Wessel. forthcoming. a cosmologist. 53. and others.O. 42. . The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. . 22. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. p. Ibid. Confessio. Confessio. p. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . Ibid. 255. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks.D. p. Ibid. 44. M. p. See Versluis. Fama. p. University of Texas at Austin.. Ibid. 1972). 63. Ibid. p. See also Marsha Schuchard.. Ibid. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. See Versluis.A. 60. Ibid.102–104. Ibid. I. 43.. 1975). 241. 56. 52. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation... for text. 41. 47. D.O.A.. Ibid. p. Ashmole. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. p. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. H.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. 40.M. See Versluis. Ashmole. 59. (Cassel: Wessel. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. 61. Ibid. p.77. 1615). William Huffman. 253. Ibid. 1988). Freemasonry. ed.. I. Theatre of the World. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. 57.. 257. Ibid. See Josten. Confessio. . see Donald Dickson. 58.M. der gantzen weiten welt .. 252. 1971). in a group called the Round Table. 246. table of contents. Yates. 1999). 1997). Fama. p. p. and even chart them astrologically. 49. 50.. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum.. Resicrucian Enlightenment. 238. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall.. C. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. From von Welling. 129. p. See. ed. The following page references are to Yates. 46. diss.

The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. Charge I. p. CHAPTER THREE 1. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. 1952). especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. V de L. 110. 170–171. 256. 11. A. 1734). 4. 2. 70. p. pp. p. 654. M.. and Margaret Bailey. See Edmond Mazet. 6. 2001). 1997).. 7. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. the Reformation. 67. . S. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. pp. pp. pp. See M. ed. 39. changes. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Revolution and Freemasonry. Franklin. 414. Warlick. p. E. p. see Versluis. 68. op. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents.. 8. Ibid. See Dickson. 66. pp. See also Bernard Fay. 409. 1997). cit. 257–272. H. Sloane. 71. Freemasonry. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. Faivre. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. 1935). Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. M. pp. 191.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. p. Milosz. . Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. citing B. 2002). Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). 9. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. 3. 247–249. 1948).. 240. Ibid. 170–171. ed. pp. 162–168. . 5. regulations . (London [Philadelphia]: B. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. D. 1992). Ibid. 268. 1926). 1985). and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. p. See George David Henderson. 66–67. Brown. Hugh Trevor-Roper. p. 65. O. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press.. 1992). “Freemasonry and Esotericism. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 1967). 10. See James Anderson.. 172–173. and Albert Cherél. On Emerson and Hermeticism. 417. Ibid.” 99–134. 69. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. Ibid. Religion. (New York: Crossroad. 253. . p. p.. Ibid. Mazet. Paul: Grail. Ibid.. see also Max Ernst. See also Schuchard. Ibid.

. pp. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . pp. I. Ibid. 32. D. 469. 19. Ibid. 31. 38. 204–205. p. Ibid. 224–225. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. Milosz. 41. Milosz. For the poet of the modernist era. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy.. 296.. 14.’s] perspective. 20.. 13. 300..115.. 39. 180–181. See W. 33. 15. cit. . p. 455. 26. .1 ff. 226–227. pp. Ibid. pp. Ibid. Ibid. 174–175. The question. op.. 34. 17.. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. pp. 21. 299. 158). 37.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. 23. pp. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. Ibid. 48–52. introduction by Albert Gelpi. 29. H. Ibid. 303. 297–298. Ibid. trs. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 182–183. 35. pp. Susan Friedman. Ibid. I... see Steven Bullock. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. 1982). 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. 40. Ibid. For a more extensive study. 25. D. 157–206... 465. p. 248. 27. ed. 1981). 277. 464. p. Milosz. 1996). 210–211. pp. p. p. 1985). See Versluis. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. 299–300. Ibid. Ibid. 30. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. 36. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. op. pp. Ibid. pp. Ibid.. pp. D.. cit. Ibid. p. 24. p. pp. 206–207. Ibid.. 1994).. 22. 16. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. See Versluis. Lib. Ibid. cit.. p. op.. pp. 18. Ibid. see Versluis. . Milosz. p. 28.. 178–179. Friedman writes that “From her [H. pp. 8–9.. Ibid. 1989). of course...164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. Scott. 2001).

pp. 66. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 54. 53. 17–19. Kraus.. D. rpt. Irina Gutkin.. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . 60. 63.. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia.. 66.. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. ed. Ibid. 1989).. H. 222. 21. Ibid. Warlick. 50–51. p. 29. Kathleen Raine.. 67. 1988).” 30–31. 64.. 69. 23.. 68. of course. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring.. p. 168. 67. p. 72. 20. 165. 169. 284–285.. 1967). Georg Heinrich Loskiel. 49.. “The Walls Do Not Fall. 47. for documentation. H. Ibid.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. 48. 57. Ibid. p. 9. hereafter cited as TG. 21. D. p. 46.. 61. in her “Zinzendorf Notes.. 18.. D.. 39. 70. Ibid. 44. p. The Gift. 1997).. 259.. Ibid. Ibid. D... 58. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950.. see also.” on which see TG. Rimius. Rosenthal. 74. See Jane Augustine. 156–159. 32... These passages were transcribed by H. H. p. 50. 24. “Notes. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. 55. 1. 225–246. E. See H. There are. 154–155. “Tribute to the Angels. other authors we could consider here. Ibid. 73. 2001). pp. Ibid. pp. 62. See H. 52. chief among them Gustav Meyrink.. The Gift.. 13. Ibid. H. 71. 50. Ibid. 51. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p.. and I certainly recommend her article. D. p. 56. Ibid. Ibid. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida.” 17. 35. Ibid. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 45. 223. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. Ibid. Futurism. Social Realism” in B. 1998). 75. 43. pp.. 20. 33. 59. 19. See. Ibid. 157. See M.” pp. D. 271–272. Ibid.. p. 70. p. p. Ibid... 65. D. ed. 102.” 1. Ibid. as well as this entire collection of articles. “Walls.

Ibid. 3 vols. p. The Secrets of Dr. p. Dion Fortune. 83. 99. hereafter noted as Meditations. 21. Southey. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. p.. 320. Faivre. Ibid.. Ibid.). Faivre. 70–71. p. 1893). (London: Quaritch. Dion Fortune. The Magical World of the Inklings. 104–104. 82. 97. 80. 94. p. p. p. p.. Collins. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. Poems. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. 102. 127. Ibid. 1814). 84. p. 1997).). pp. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. 239. and Meditations. 89. See for instance. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. cit. op. p. 197. 85. 1988) p. cit. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Fortune. E.d. Lewis. ed. 382. Ibid. pp. C. S. Letters from England (London: Longman. p. Gareth Knight. Gareth Knight. 101. 43. pp.. 40. p.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). 98. pp. See on this point. 103. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. so I have decided not to include them here. noted hereafter as Vision. 82–83. Lewis.. 100. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. 87. Yeats. pp. p. Ibid... p.. 154. 95. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. p. B. Dion Fortune. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). 88. The Works of William Blake. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. 95. Vision. p. p. 92. Ibid. 78. 1994). See Antoine Faivre.. 1990). Ibid. including Fortune’s.25. 102. 1994). Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire.. 40... 76. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. cit. Vision. . 20–21. 10. p. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. 322. 90. 87. Ibid. 79... 91. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. 81. Ibid. 323. Ellis and W. 77.. 88. 115. op. 96. 86. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. p. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. 124–125.. 1993). n. op. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. Collins. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. Meditations. I. S. 101. 93. C. Ibid. 291. Ibid. See Collins.. Ibid. maintaining our focus on the Inklings.. 91. 112. 1994) p. retained his magical regalia in his office.

275 ff. Irina Gutkin. Ibid. 103. See Versluis. 105. 125. 170... p. 111. Ibid..1 ff. Nishitani Keiji. 225. 109. p.” and I. 1994). Peter Erb. pp. Christosophia. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. 114. p. p.. 62–63. 71 ff. See. 117. p. 128. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. Nicholas Berdyaev. Versluis. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. 112. IV . . p. 116. Ibid. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press.29–30.. 39. Freedom and the Spirit. 40. Ibid. for example.. 110.. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan... 1957). 129. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. 107.. A. p. Diss. trs. 124. 113. 40 and pp. II.. 199. 94.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. 108 ff. 25 ff. 123.. 93. 63. 74. p. 121. p. Ibid. Ibid. I. p. 1958). 78. ed.D. 1997) p. p... “Vorrede. 105. E. Rosenthal. Ibid. p. pp. 194 ff. p. 130.. pp. Ibid. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 126. Ibid. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. pp. Ibid.31. I added the colors.” in B. Futurism.. 106. 95. 118. 1978). Ibid. 1991). Ibid. 120. See also The Destiny of Man. 285. Knapp. p... Toronto: 1948). Ibid.1. p. See Charles C. Ibid.” 108. Socialist Realism. pp. 1980).. 119. 106. p. 122. Christosophia IV . 62. Ibid. forthcoming. Ibid. 115. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism..31. “Warnung an den Leser. 127.


63 Anderson. 24. Cecil. 68. 148–150 Alchemy. 40–41. 94. 42. 22 Cordovero. 35–43. initiatory nature of. James. 61–62. 82 Bacon. 28. 93. 10. 129. Tibetan. 25 Ashmole. 18. 2. 140. Roger. 56 Bahir. Heinrich Cornelius. 78. 63. 45 Chaucer. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 154 Book of Life. 99 Dickinson. 76 Buddhism. 81 Bruno. 89. 17 Blake. 129. Francis. 46 Christ. 154 Dogen. 11 Dury. 78. 5. Jacob. 28.E. 53 A. 96 Dee. 147 Buddhism. 137 Boethius. 28–29. 56 Baader. 56 Amor Proximi. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 102. 75. William. 129–135 Comenius. 5. Sir Thomas. 143–144. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 97 Cremer. 24. 80. 79 Backhouse. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 77 Bromley. 59 Dante. 51. 75 Chivalry. 20. 152 Brahe. 72 Consciousness. 47. Tycho. 150 Browne. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 25 Apuleius. 66 Corbin. 56 Art. 94. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. William. 68–71. John. 138 Basilides. 28. 105 Christianity [origins of]. Elias. 2 Aurea Catena. 59. John. René. 57 Beatrice. 96 Berdyaev. Emily. 1. 80 Böhme. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. Abbot. 141 Agrippa. 80–82 Astrology. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 40 Bible. Henry. 18 Arnold of Villanova. ix. Franz von. 57. 141–142. Geoffrey. 142. Abraham. 4. John. 1 Collins. 27–28. 52. 53. 14. 5. 90. Thomas. 64. 31. 81–82 Descartes. Giordano. 31 Basilius Valentinus.INDEX Abulafia. 81–82 Dee. 95. 30. 55–67.. 97. Moses. 148 Barrett. 82–83 169 . 139. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. Nicholas. 81. 53. Arthur. 93.

Brian. Rulman. 36–39 Gutkin. 21 Heydon. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 89. 102 Leade. 122 Koan. 4. 11 Hutton. Robert. Albert. 82 Knight. Jewish. 109. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 63. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. T. 139 H. Andreas. Gareth. 104. Johann Wolfgang. 88-89. 40 . 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 84. Martin. 84 Lewis. 111 Emerson. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 51 Islam. Georg Heinrich. 2. 89–103 Hermetism. John. 43–45. 104 Gichtel. Max. Jewish. 153–154 Eriugena. 89. 103. Edward. 25 Hinduism. 31 Melville. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 2. 100 Hirst. 103 Fuller. 127 Frankenberg. Nicholas. 7–8 Esotericism. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 95 Hartlib. Benjamin. Samuel. 89.. 56 Jerusalem. 99 Grail cycle. 112 Friedman. Abraham von. 107. 112 Lull. 105. 19. Ralph Waldo. 18–21. 106 Eschenbach. 46. 12–15. 25 John. 75. Désirée. 72–73 Faust. 103–119 Hardenberg. 1. Antoine. 29 Mazet. 19 Faivre. 153 Homer. 104. 28. 78 Gnosis. 19–21. 56. 97. 109 Hermeticism. 104. 42. Herman. Joseph de. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 26–31. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries.S. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 54. Irina. 56 Maier. 68. 35. 19. 102 Lee. Ramon. 9. 90. Johann Georg. 44. 2. 22. ix. 77 Flamel. 140 La Fontaine. 1 Keeble. 126. 76. 10–12. 8–9 Larronde. 55 Koran. Meister. 100. 127 Loskiel.D. Steven. Wolfram von. 69 Franklin. 52–54 Kabbalah. Dion. Edmond. 129 Kelley. 120. Francis. 30. Jane. Victor Sogen. 2. 105 Eliade. John Scotus. 46–52. Book of. Mircea. 21. Jean. 7–8. 82–83 Heidegger. 50. 56 Fludd. 77 Gelpi. 100 Marcus.170 INDEX Eckhart. Michael. Susan. 101 Freemasonry. 50. 65. 5. 123. 76 Maistre. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 151 Merswin.S. 80–81 Fortune. 111 Geheime Figuren. 120–122. 27–28 Gnosticism. 79–86. 8.. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 22–24 Initiation. 83. C. 21–22 Hermetica.. 123–126. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 102 Ernst. 140 Hippolytus. 101–102 Frey. Carlos. 137 Goethe. 112 Imagination. 5 Hori. Joseph Edward. Margaret. 29 Hiram. 9 Eliot. Johannes. 138 Katz. 57–59. Christian. 53. ix.

V ix. 113. 47–48. Blaise. 57. 67–69. 89–103.R. Gospel of. 154–156 Norton. 26 Tolkien. William. 26–27 Moravians. 74. 32 Plato. 9. 40 Milosz. 56 Swedenborg. 21 Poiret. Marguerite. 40 Raine. 103 Pyrlaeus. 51. 141 . 84 Pordage. 92. 2 Postel. 50 Schuchard. 36. Czeslaw. 108. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 84 Reading. Joseph. 105. Henry. 5. 99. 37–38 Pascal. Paulus. John. Rainer Marie. 13. 112–113 Morienus. 52 Piers Ploughman. 140 Tauler. 46. 152 . 108 Rimius. 23–26. 148 Seidel. 75–78 Paracelsus. 60. 32. 64 Roberts. 43 Synesius. 4 Shakespeare. 18. 2 Nag Hammadi Library.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 115 Pythagoras. 52–53 Revelation. 53 Theosophy. Jean. 115. 99 Philip. Samuel. Robert. 63. 99 Prospero. Vladimir. 136 Science and objectification. 53 Theseus. 69.. George. 52 Pansophy. Pierre. 64. 116 Nature [concept of]. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 48 Mysticism. 68. 116 Self. Bernadette. 110 Southey. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. sacred. 53 Rilke. 92. 76 Sufism. 90. 79. Emanuel. ix. John. 87–88. 118 Ramsay. 8 Rosicrucianism. 18. 58 Numbers. 46. 19. 140 Tao te ching. 112 Ripley. 152 Richter. 56. Gillaume. J. 53. 11 Russian literature. Gustav. 99. Marsha Keith. 89. 47. 94. 99 Pasqually. 103.. 25. Andrew Michael. Gershom. 5 Minotaur. 115. 148 Platonic archetypes. 99 Scholem. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 21. 17. 137. 139 Saint Martin. 2. Thomas. 59. Sir Walter. Johannes. René. O. 148 Radical ecology. 140 Templars. 76 Parzival. Johann Christoph. 138 Stellatus. Milton. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 85. 92. 39–40 Solovyov. 90 Porete. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 90 Milosz. Christian. 56 Moses de Leon. 120. Martinez de. Johannes. Jean. 19. 103. 56 Origen. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 90 Talmud. 70. 119 Raleigh. 2. 87–88. 14–15. 4 Reuchlin. 73. Louis-Claude de. 69. 150. 14. Kathleen. Book of. 105. 114–115 Thenaud. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 63 Rici. 29 Pre-Socratics. 5. 123 Poimandres. 79.R. 109. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 66 New Age. 71–76 Rousseau. 8 Nishitani Keiji.

M. 110. 53 Versluis. 86 Welling.B. ix. 10.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. David. 35–43 Ungrund. 106 Washington. 111 Warlick.E. 9. 111. 10. 103. 79 Willermoz. 67–69 Upanishads. 84 Williams. 82 Troubadours. 112–113 Zohar. 120. 103. 31 Viterbo. 116 Yates. 103. 56 . 140 Valentinus. 148 Zosimos. W.. 101 Weishaupt. George.. Arthur. Jean-Baptiste. 104. ix. Adam. 88. 148 Zen Buddhism. 48. Charles. 10. Nicholas. 64. 63. Hugh. 137. 55. Frances. 156 Zinzendorf. 2. 75 Yeats. Egidio Cardinal. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. Georg von. 89. 122–123 Williamson.

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. Theosophy. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. 1994). 1998). 2000). readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www.. 1956). 2001). (Graz: 1992). 1975).esoteric. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. Imagination. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. 1998). and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. 1992). Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. (Leuven: Peeters. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press.aseweb. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. Earlier. eds. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. along with its companion book. Gnoses. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. 2 vols. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press.msu. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. 1998). A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse.

as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1996). 1996). 1999). Paul: Grail. Paul: Paragon House. 2000). 2001). 1994). Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular.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 Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Paul: Grail. Gnosis and Literature (St. 2002). edited by Brian Keeble. . This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press.

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