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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. 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.
cm.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. paper) 1. Occultism—History. 2. Laurie Searl Marketing. Occultism in art. I. II. Albany. ALBANY © 2004 Arthur Versluis Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. Anne M. electrostatic. Suite 700. 3. 90 State Street. recording. Authur. Series. magnetic tape. Title. art. address State University of New York Press. NY 12207 Production. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. Occultism in literature.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. p. For information. literature. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. BF1411. photocopying. mechanical. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
Rosicrucian. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 . Pansophic.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.
Art. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature.
so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. S. art. 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. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. Lewis. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. C. and Cecil Collins. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. but in keeping with my original impetus. H. traditions. D. O. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. and consciousness itself. ix . At the very least. literature. but as the book took shape. figures. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. At the suggestion of an early reader. but the work’s focus remains Western. V. Milosz.. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. Hence. In writing this book.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. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods.
(Ipswich: Golgonooza. Milosz.. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. V.D. from Trilogy. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. xi .). each of whom helped to make it a better work. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. 1997). de L.D. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Poems. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. and to Studies in Spirituality. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. 2001). 1985). © 1945 by Oxford University Press. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. including the adapted cover illustration. from Trilogy.D. 1994) and Meditations.). Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson.
artistic.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. but also. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. and metaphysical or transcendent. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). however. Yet for this to take place. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. religious. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. In this book. provoking. or conveying spiritual experiences. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. and one that has ramifications in many directions. literary. These are not.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. even apophatic mysticism. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. mutually 1 . and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. and perhaps even more critically. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. and otherwise. are now appearing. figures. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. the study of mysticism.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious.1 Here. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos.
Rather. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. or gnosis. above all this is a book about knowing. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. Christian theosophy. Like the koan. But the time for such biases is past. In particular. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. however. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. . this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions.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 perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. Yet these traditions. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. astrology. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. or Hermeticism. astrology. Undoubtedly. Not at all. however disparate. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. mysticism. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. theosophy. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. and about how we come to know. or convey spiritual awakening. of course. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. and social histories. including alchemy. Jewish Kabbalah. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. provoke. In essence. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. that is what this book is about.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. Christian gnosis. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. left out of literary. do have certain characteristics in common. examples of it include alchemy. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. Here. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. magic. Freemasonry. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. philosophical. magic. it is to consider the complex ways that language and image have worked and continue to work in both Western and Eastern traditions in order to generate. this must be our primary focus. Rosicrucianism. religious.
we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. and there are many treasures to be found there. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. which is often seen either as outdated. the Western esoteric traditions. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. At the same time on the religious front. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. And underlying these is. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. and cults existed side by side. To navigate one’s way through these movements. In many respects. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. of course. and to understand their patterns and meaning. what their predecessors are. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. .5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. Thus. proliferating wildly. By looking more closely at the origin. about reading the stars. For as we will see. therefore. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. nature. sects. when a panoply of religions. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. when we look at Western societies. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. a vast field. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. despite their often almost bewildering variety. in my view. our time resembles the early Christian era. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. and to alternative forms of spirituality. we find on the social front. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. Western esotericism is.
there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. purgatory. 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. When we read a novel. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. And when we read a great poem. and will require much elaboration. however. we enter into another’s world.’ that is. we feel as someone else feels. The word gnosis. and each requires the other. Greek in origin. reading here guides one toward gnosis. imaginatively enter into different lives. why do we travel with . we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. The mystery of reading is. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. If there are great writers. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. but with consciousness itself. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. and heaven. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. By contrast. when we read the works of an Emerson. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I.’ Unexamined here. What is more. or spiritual knowledge. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. of course. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. 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.’ itself a metaphor for our time. is much deeper than it might at first appear. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. we have developed machines that ‘read. In every experience of literature. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. minerals and stars. and ultimately with the divine. Likewise. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. refers to spiritual knowledge. in other words. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. so too there are great readers. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. also about union. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. but can be transmuted.
we understand. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. fiction. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . in short to the full range of esoteric literature. like so many others. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. Rather. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. 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. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. where we are from. not about accumulating more information. and where we are going. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. and essays. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness.” 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. What is more. We make connections. and when we read them. drama.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. 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.
one based not on division but on union. grounded in spirituality. In this respect. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. everything. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. 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.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. but for connection and union. most notably Western esoteric traditions. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. the way we see the world. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. nature. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. in that to follow such a path means that one has to leave behind modern objectifying preconceptions of how one is separate from nature and the divine. from which we believe that we are separate. including people. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. or manipulation. living divorced from humanity. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. quantitative. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. but also the even more primal act of knowing. Those studying the humanities. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. 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. and the divine. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . people most of all. and everything becomes a matter of techné. finally. indeed. By contrast. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. and particularly literature. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. as if catalogic. it suffuses our language.
W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways.6 Subsequently. And in North America as well. The reader. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. 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. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. and groups in Western European and North American history. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. alone with an author. and so to maintain clarity. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. works. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. In Western Europe. and so forth. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. and consciousness. And indeed. literature. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. 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. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. Dutch scholar Wouter Hanegraaff demonstrated that late twentiethcentury New Age movements and individuals (at least the somewhat less intellectually frothy) were frequently indebted to earlier currents of Western esotericism. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. however. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. But the fact remains that there are also figures. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. crystals. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. so too that choice still exists today. Indeed. . particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions.
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say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.
I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual
admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an
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emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-
but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. but into conventional consciousness . I believe.” 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. From this viewpoint. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. not beyond it. through language and image. however. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. If kensho is the realization of nonduality.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). . kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. . one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. At one time. then it is a breakthrough not out of. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. Esoteric literature and art—of which koans are in fact an example—may be seen as both pointing toward and as an expression of cosmological or metaphysical gnosis. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. 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. 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. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point.”11 This is. in his Shobogenzo.
But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. and in fact represents a test for the neophyte: one has to realize the nondual truth that it represents and have this confirmed by a master’s judgment. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. I believe. frustrating though this may be. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. 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.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. What makes Western esotericism different above all. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. as means of initiation. as I will propose here. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. 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. 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. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. Rather. as in individual daydreams. for that matter. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. By . I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. This is not to say that the West had or. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. Rather. and thus also to the individual. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. I am arguing that in the West. Like the koan. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters.
in other words. the images. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. 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. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. guide. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way.12 As a result. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. it is for the few. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. it is not for a general readership. For example. Obviously. literary or otherwise. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. Imagination. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . the action by the act of reading or viewing. This work is circumscribed. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. For instance. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey.
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.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. in other words. which is what I am proposing here. not one’s own. 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. 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. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision.’ 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. Sympathetic readers. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. But there is a third perspective. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. Initiates. and nothing less. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. graspable solution to a koan.14 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E enter into the work and imaginatively undergo the process of awakening to the hidden realm that he is describing. but here a new magical earth is brought .” The gnostic. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. and this too presents problems. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. and 3. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. who enter into a work imaginatively. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. Yet if we answer “yes. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. to understand them. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. 2.
but resides in a continuum between the two. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. to the divine power within that creates. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. This. then. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. is by its very nature one of co-creation. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. What is more. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. 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. 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. in sum. . they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. The realm of the imagination.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. In other words. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise.
This. And to find these themes. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. death. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. 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. however. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. is profoundly different. From relatively early on. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. Here. The other kind of writing. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. needless to say. we must begin in antiquity. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. what we may call a 17 . Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. and resurrection. 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. and. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is.
be characterized according to people’s approach to language. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. that one can easily list them. literal. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. of course. and indeed. revelatory emphasis. for instance. should it be ahistorical. be it scientific. as throughout world religious traditions. In Christianity. we can see how anomalous it is. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. symbolic. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. legal. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. Of course. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. Consider. and on the other. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. the development of Buddhism. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. By contrast. or historical. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. an ahistorical.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. the Word was not literal but spiritual. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. so rare—in fact. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. . many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. on the other hand. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. and mythic. The gnostics. or technological. 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. multilayered approaches.
ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. but such an approach is not for everyone. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. and spiritual illumination. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. Likewise. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. who are worthy of it. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. Who was rejected as heretical. that is. true pronunciation. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. chiefly vowels. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. however much their literalist opponents think differently. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. asceticism. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. In general. 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. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. one is in touch with inconceivable power. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. just . here it is vertical. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. and who else was accepted as orthodox. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. the seeds of all things. and communion. For instance. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. but of communication. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper.
and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. inconceivable power would be set loose. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. 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. as does the creation of images. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. through images. paradoxically conveyed often through . but if the letters were properly restored. thereby making this conflict inevitable. then. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. and macrocosmically. 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.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. basilisks. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. 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. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. as principles of creation itself. such images represent divine aspects.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. The letters. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. and so forth. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. Letters and numbers. 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. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. 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. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. are a means to creation’s redemption. we can see how these images fit rather well into the tradition: they represent again a means of invoking and ‘fixing’ the underlying powers or principles of creation itself. and so forth. so the letters were altered.
which were also about death and resurrection. There is no one author of the Hermetica. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). but share elements in common with all three. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. out of which emerges a “holy Word. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian.” From the very beginning. letter.” the being. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. of the mysteries tradition. 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.” (X. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. presented in the form of dialogues. “there is communion between soul and soul. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. is self-evident. in symbols and myths. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. “I know what you wish. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism.” when he reaches rest and joy (I.” but not like an ordinary sleep. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. in the first centuries of this era. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries.” the “voice of the Light. In at least some respects.25). tells him. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. number. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. Poimandres.22b) . This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. “for I am with you everywhere.
22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. Like Hermes himself. always there is a fluid. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. then. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. traditions. or direct knowledge of the divine. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. It is. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. and . here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. the mystery traditions. they certainly intermingled. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. mercurial quality to it. and Hermetism.” “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. 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. T H E F I E L D O F T H E I M A G I N AT I O N It is commonplace today to think of the imagination as a means of escapism— the word is roughly equivalent to daydreaming or to fantasy. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. Indeed. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. Christian esotericism. Platonism. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. For from what we have said. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. what we find is something quite different. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. However. and there is a witness to the revelation. yet not strictly philosophical either. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them.
after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. saw and heard these things. and where the earthly past. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. and in the tenth chapter. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. and only then. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . a little book sweet as honey. of course. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. I believe that literature. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. and the auditory part of the vision began. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. an elder tells him to weep not. but take place in their own time. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. beginning with the Revelation to John. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. when he weeps. and behold. and he interacts with them.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. a mesocosm. or field of the imagination. and does eat. And immediately I was in the spirit. he is told to eat. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. Above all. However. and future are visible. when he eats the book. questions. a throne was set in heaven. Then. . John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. John. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. present.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. in the fourth chapter. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. quite well known. At one point. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. and behold. . a door was opened in heaven. he sees the twenty-four elders. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. and one sat on the throne. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. in other words. Rather. off the Greek coast. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. Although the vision has a beginning. mythology. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. Yet interestingly. There are. once introduced to this sequence. came the following: “After this I looked. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . turned. where John meets. apparently visionary time.
” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge.13). This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. a gnostic encounter with elders. But for our purposes. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. 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). The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. John is united with its knowledge. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. and by eating the book. which he does. becoming symbolically charged. And then there is. Christian Gnosticism. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. and finds it bitter in his belly. the way we see the cosmos itself changes.9). especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. and are in a sense initiates. the Book of Revelation of St. and one hundred forty-fours. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter.” during these the end times. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. In the tenth chapter. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. Every aspect of life is altered. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. found in Judaism. The Revelation. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. twelves. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. One. we will recall. John is given a little book to eat. there are “other books. of course. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. in other words. all remind us of the prior traditions. the very book that we are reading. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. 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. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism.12). and Hermetism. Taken together. of course. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. Additionally. but sweet as honey on his lips. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. angels.
the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. including the two books of Enoch. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. at the Kabbalistic tradition. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. Rather. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. splendid earthly form: but again. all of which belong to the apocrypha. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. Yet because it became canonical. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. the Ascension of Isaiah. words. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. and of James and of Adam. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. profoundly symbolic numbers. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. where an encounter may take place. at the mystical tradition. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. it is an image. 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. and what is heard. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. the fact that there were so many apocalyptic revelations during the beginning of the Christian era underscores the recognition that such revelations are inherent in . a hearer. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. Of course. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. and what is seen. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. At the same time. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. seen by a seer. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. the Revelation does not stand alone.
We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. it is certainly not the only one. or put better. far more than may at first appear. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . 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. without relevance to oneself. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. to the transcendent. to make it one’s own. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. how hieroeidetic a work is. And though we risk being burned. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. for although the Revelation is the most well known. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. as wild as the book of Revelation. of being charged. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism.’ of participation. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. we are drawn toward it. So it is with the story of Theseus. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. The analogy of electricity. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. or from exoteric to esoteric. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. and exists more for entertainment. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. objectifying it. Esoteric literature. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. In other words. ranging from external to internal. or one may enter into it—just as there is a range of approaches to such a work—so too there is a range of such works. more electric. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. a constellation of letters and numbers. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. often in a simple story.
ter, Ariadne, and a thread that led him out. The symbolism here is profound, and certainly reflects the ancient Mithraic mystery symbolism of the bull, the labyrinth of the world, and escape-rebirth. But perhaps we may adapt this symbolism to our own purposes, for when we consider the subject of gnosis, we too find ourselves in a labyrinth, and require some thread to guide us out. This thread is the topic of gnosis itself, for by exploring it, we will be far better prepared to understand the often bewildering variety of Western esoteric traditions. The word gnosis, because it is singular, implies that there is but one kind of gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. However, when we consider the range of religious literature, even that labeled “gnostic,” we seem to find a bewildering spectrum of gnoses. We might divide this spectrum into cosmological gnosis (insight into the hidden patterns in the cosmos), eschatological gnosis (insight into what transcends history and the cosmos), and metaphysical gnosis (insight into the divine), even though all of these may be seen as aspects of a single gnosis. And concerning metaphysical gnosis, or direct insight into the nature of the divine itself, we find two primary approaches that we may call visionary and unitive gnosis, corresponding to the via positiva and the via negativa discussed by Dionysius the Areopagite. The via positiva, or visionary approach, goes through images and the field of the imagination; the via negativa, or unitive approach, is the falling away of all images. It has become more or less commonplace, following Dionysius himself, to see the via negativa as superior to the via positiva. Dionysius writes that sacred revelation often proceeds through sacred images in which like represents like, while also using forms that are dissimilar, and even entirely inadequate and ridiculous (Cel. Hier. 140c). But he goes on to remark that a second way, of going beyond images entirely in the via negativa, is “more appropriate, for as the secret and sacred tradition has instructed, God is in no way like the things that have being, and we have no knowledge at all of his incomprehensible and ineffable transcendence” (Cel. Hier. 141a). What Dionysius observes here is extremely important, in particular his insistence on a secret and sacred tradition that the Divine completely transcends the realm of being. Dionysius’s observation—that God in no way resembles the things that have being—combats a tendency that, as we have already noted, is common to the traditions of the Book: taking writing literally. Literalism corresponds to what in Judaism was called “idolatry”: it reduces the Divine to human concepts that can be manipulated. This tendency may also be called “objectification,” and is a common function of language more generally. For language by its nature can separate us from what we are discussing: we objectify the Divine just as we objectify all that surrounds us, including nature and other people. But this process of objectification inherently separates us from what we see in this way: the very word God becomes a barrier to experiencing what that word means.
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In other words, gnostic knowledge is fundamentally different from ratiocinative knowledge, and the language to express gnosis must reflect this difference. Ratiocinative (from ratio, measure between things) knowledge belongs to the realm of division into subject and object: ‘I’ discuss ‘that.’ Such is the basis for modern science, and ratiocinative knowledge can be widely disseminated as information or data. By contrast, gnosis belongs to a secret or intimate tradition and cannot be widely disseminated as information because it does not belong to the realm of information and division at all, but instead to what transcends division. The scientific or ratiocinative path moves toward ever greater data about what is external; the gnostic path moves toward ever greater intimacy with what transcends both internal and external. Gnosis, then, is not at all a matter of ‘I’ discussing ‘that,’ but of going beyond the very division between ‘I’ and ‘that.’ The question, of course, is how one moves toward gnostic knowledge, and the answers to this question in the West comprise the Western esoteric traditions. The essential division offered by Dionysius the Areopagite between the via positiva and the via negativa helps us begin to discuss these answers in a schematic way, not because these two ways are at all opposed to each other, but because they illuminate each other. Indeed, they correspond rather closely to what we see in the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition, where visualization and a plethora of imagery express their own transcendence. The Prajnaparamita Sutra, with its verses on sheer transcendence of all that is sensory, does not invalidate but expresses the ultimate meaning of the countless Buddhist images often in the very hall where it is chanted. Likewise, in the Western esoteric traditions, one finds a vast range of imagery and means, but these are generally seen within the traditions as an expression of what transcends them. The problem here, and in language itself, is that it is all too easy to regard words or images as if they were the thing itself, to ‘fix’ or ‘congeal’ the inconceivable. This is a particularly likely problem when there is no widespread emphasis on the transcendent, as there is within Buddhism, or any continuous lineage of masters or teachers who could guide seekers or initiates. The Western esoteric traditions have largely remained catch-as-catch-can, defined perhaps best by the precarious relationship between an author and a reader through the medium of the book. And the Gnostic Basilides evidently recognized this, for in one of the only fragments attributed to him, he writes of the ineffable transcendent nothing, and notes that “what is called by a name is not absolutely ineffable, but it is not, for the truly ineffable is not ineffable, but ‘above every name which is named’ [Eph. 1.21] . . . Names are inadequate . . . Instead, by understanding without speech one must receive the properties of the things named” (Hipp. Ref. VII.viii). Actual direct experience of the transcendent is far more important than simply knowing the words. Basilides held that he belonged to a secret lineage that ran from Jesus to Matthias to himself, and primary in their revelation was nothingness, or
absolute transcendence. According to his rather bitter opponent Hippolytus, Basilides wrote that before the cosmos, “nothing” existed, “not matter, nor substance, nor the insubstantial, nor an absolute, nor a composite, not conceivable, or inconceivable, not sensible, not devoid of sense, not man, angel, or a god, nothing that has a name or is cognized by intellect” (Ref. VII.ix). Basilides’s emphasis—throughout what little we still have, quoted by Hippolytus from Basilides’s treatises—was consistently on sheer transcendence beyond the medium of human language, and corresponds to the via negativa of Dionysius the Areopagite. Indeed, given the series of negations here that very much resemble those of the Prajnaparamita Sutra in Buddhism, it is not surprising that Basilides is reputed to have been influenced by Buddhism. However, Basilides is not alone in his emphasis on the inconceivability of gnosis, its sheer transcendence of all ratiocination. So too Epiphanes wrote of the Gnostics that “The earliest originating principle was inconceivable, ineffable, and unnameable” (Ref. VI.xxxiv); and Marcus, during a Gnostic Eucharist, reportedly offered a chalice to a woman during the consecration, then received it back from her and said, ‘Grant that the inconceivable and ineffable Grace which existed prior to the universe, may fill thine inner man, and make abound in thee the gnosis of this grace, as she disseminates the seed of the mustard-tree upon good soil’ ” (Ref. VI.xxxv). A similar emphasis is to be found in Dionysius the Areopagite, in his treatise on the Divine Names, for instance, when he remarks that God is beyond all names and creatures, “transcendently and supernaturally, far above creatures, above their being and above their nature” (956B). He continues that “no unity or trinity, no number or oneness, no fruitfulness, indeed nothing that is or is known can proclaim that hiddenness . . . of the transcendent Godhead which transcends every being. There is no name for it and no expression” (981a). Paradoxically, by maintaining an emphasis on the ineffability of the divine, the Gnostics also maintained a via positiva of esoteric words, letters, numbers, and images. But this linguistic mysticism existed within the context of the absolute transcendence that it in fact manifests. In other words, letters, numbers, and images emerge out of the unbegotten, and represent the hidden patterns and harmonies of the cosmos that, by ‘following back,’ inevitably in turn lead one to the ineffable. It is well known that there are Hebrew systems of transforming letters into their numerical meanings, but what is perhaps less remarked upon is that there was an esoteric Greek tradition of such transformations too, probably carried over from Pythagorean and Neoplatonic sources. Thus we find the Gnostic Marcus maintained that the number of Jesus is 888, that the number of the dove is 801, and that the body of truth is composed of letters, the head by Alpha and Omega, the neck by Beta and Psi, and so forth. Sacred numbers, letters, and images reveal the esoteric forming powers of the cosmos. Each letter, according to this tradition, is produced by a particular
As we ‘read’ these images. VI. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. words. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. we become intimate with them. and reveal transcendence. in dreams. embody. and the entire name had thirty letters. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. although we refer to them by the same names. which is of a totally different order. This name was composed of four syllables. or aeon. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. sacred images. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. For instance. we find plays on naming and namelessness.xxxvi). so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. or one will . Indeed. we participate in what they represent. and numbers emerge in. and in religious experiences. the first of which had four letters. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible.”3 In other words. in the Gospel of Philip.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. 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. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. there is earthly marriage. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. not opposite or even complementary ways. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. and we enter into a realm where negation and affirmation are both recognized to be at once valid and invalid ways of expressing what transcends them both. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. but different aspects of the same way. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. 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.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. and its light “never sets. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death.
one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. gnostic paradigms. evokes. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. The nameless and the named are not divided. 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. The world has become the aeon. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. for such a one the world is transparent. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. not to arbitrary designations. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. 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. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. but is free in life and in death. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. when one dies. characteristic ways of understanding. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. divided consciousness. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. but rather. not hidden in the darkness and the night. This is as true for the canonically accepted authors such as Clement of Alexandria or Dionysius the Areopagite as it is for Valentinus or Basilides. the unnameable. . Here naming refers. for the aeon is fullness for him. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. is. Rather. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. The cosmos is no longer opaque. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. indeed.”4 In other words. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. elusive. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. but its inseparable companion. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent.
a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. on which conventional mathematics is founded. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. Here. which is the mystery of words and of the book. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. a third characteristic. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. and therein we obtain the pure key. nor wholly from without. More intimately. separated from the subject who sees. woven together into a . but as qualities pregnant with meaning. in his own degree. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves.”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. What is more. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. and are visible in major European literary works. everyone. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. . which all proceed from the one only essence . But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. without masters. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. On the lowest level. of the different properties of beings. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. . Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. however. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. A fourth characteristic is imagery.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). Regeneration alone shows us the ground. By contrast. letters. They are only the sensible expression. Out of the gnoses of numbers. of course.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. Even more intimately yet. According to rational consciousness. whether visible or intellectual. my dear brother. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. to which I have already devoted some study. including Piers Ploughman.
remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. numbers. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. . letters. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. whether. in one form or another. Christian. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. words. and traditions best express his understanding. we will seek to trace the essential characteristics of each current and see whether or not at heart Western esotericism as a whole exists on the border between religious and literary experience. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. Its mysteries of names. Roman. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. and images. Egyptian. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. images. Jewish and Christian and Greek. 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. taken together. often do not hold at all. By following the courses of Western esotericism. from antiquity to the present. words. Greek. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. to become it. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. To read such a work properly is to ingest it.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience.
of course. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. 35 . 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. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. in giving honor to his beloved. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. sees her (or him. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable.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. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. The troubadour. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena.
One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. Much more likely that here. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. that is to say. particularly the chivalric tradition. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. likewise. even surreptitious.36 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Thus there is implicitly a dual quality to much of the writing associated with each of these traditions. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. never explicitly discussing. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. But when we look at these movements as a whole. . I think. or love’s faithful. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. is no. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. 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. for example. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word.E. Of course. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. Instead.
He found that a man named Flegetanis. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. and this is the mystery of names. a hermit. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. there is no need to erase it. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. whence had come the Grail. then the chivalric life is his one desire. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. and to whom God sends his angel. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. for the name disappears. but there is another source. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. Naturally. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. occupying a middle ground between these. noble angels. For. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. but God may have taken them back. worthy. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. and has a rich reward in heaven. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. Hearing this. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. . a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. In any event. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. both pagan and Christian. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. that is. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. we are told. those who did not take sides. For instance. teacher of Eschenbach. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints.
and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- .” chiefly Saturn. Parzival. Throughout the tale. 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.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. For instance. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. Yet this implicit esotericism. we are told to honor women. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. we will recall. then their sorrows would end. in particular. and at the end of the tale. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. the spotted knight. but also with the changing of the moon. like chivalric literature more generally. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. and that is the exalted position of women. just as is Western esotericism more generally. And at the book’s conclusion. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. Saturn to suffering. and if he asked a Question. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. and that of all the Grail servers. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. He was to ask. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. like so many of the Western esoteric currents.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. of course. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. of course. entertaining. When inevitably she does so. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. Rather. the knight is told by Feirifiz. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination.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. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. then naming them one by one in Arabic. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. The Grail. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. remains this-worldly in emphasis. exists both within and without specific religious traditions.
part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. in the image of the pentangle. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. and. the five virtues. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. but with the five fingers. is marked with a tiny colored initial. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. in Gawain as in Parzival. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. First.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. as I have elsewhere shown. courtesy. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. the number of maidens serving the Grail. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. marking why Gawain is a fine man. these being liberality. loving kindness. When Gawain. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. like Grail tales more generally. like several others in the poem. This famous passage. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table find the story not only funny but so instructive that they all decide to wear a green girdle like Gawain’s. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. Gawain’s symbol. with the five wounds of Christ. he ultimately feels shamed. of course. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . the first is the true knot. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. continence. and piety. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. Once again. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. And this green marks my second point of observation.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. At the end of Gawain. Yet in the story’s conclusion. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. part of a tradition that. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. the poem.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. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five.
valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. yet at the same time. and renewal. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life.” or “the Green Isle. and the illicit. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. pus nons val arditz. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. Or again. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. growth. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante.”] Or again. like the chivalric orders. / And since talking directly can’t help us. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. green is the color of nature. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink.” The Friends of God were. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. the hidden divine messenger. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. perhaps cunning can. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. One does find esoteric themes. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. although a lay group. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. to be renewed.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. not monastic or priestly. yet it is also the symbol of new life. This same duality inheres in the color green. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . Gawain. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). but they are almost never explicitly esoteric.
There is. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. is a visionary poem. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. but the faculty of imaginal perception. we end by passing beyond space. of course. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. thrice-blessed Lady. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. who lived during the fifth century. In De consolatione. as in the Divine Comedy. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. Dante ends this strange work. This is. and here. and his commentary. La Vita Nuova. 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. of course. Thus Dante’s greatest works. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. full of images. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. calls upon the “book of memory. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. albeit more literary. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. And of course. in the ninth hour of the day.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. like the great Divine Comedy. time. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. poems. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . 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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. with a final vision about which he will not now write. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. philosophical. an intervening figure in the tradition. this time wearing a white dress. and exactly nine years later. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. Boethius. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. Dante sees Beatrice again. and to fuse the tradition’s literary.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. as does the play that we see here on naming. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. and words and ideas into the empyrean. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy.
interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. knarry.” and by “kervere of ymages. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. however. Chaucer was not an esotericist. instrumentz. 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. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose.” Thus this tale. the theater of art.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. And these are evoked . In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. yet he went further. caroles. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory.” with “festes. especially of the knight for his lady. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty.” In that “portreiture. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself.” 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. Like Dante. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. We see in Chaucer’s tale.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov.” “gastly for to see. known as a primary literary figure in English history. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. marked east and west by gates of marble. above all. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. bareyne trees olde. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). here. But all the same. daunces” around her. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. Earthy. with an oratory. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. and of divine service.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. Chaucer. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. Here. 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. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale.
like Chaucer. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. was prolific. 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. For although Lull. The Book of Contemplation. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. (a kind of chivalric code). In the ninety-ninth chapter. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. The lover answered. literature is not only entertainment. given its astonishing scope. one for each of the 365 days of the year. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. and of course his most well-known and influential works. but with the advent of rationalism. In fact. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. Lull.” are familiar to students of . Ars brevis. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. “knowledge” and “remembrance. Not surprisingly. not just a set of correspondences. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. and indeed. troubadour. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. These terms.” The Art represents. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). until he was thirty. and Ars generalis ultima. At this juncture. bringing together the chivalric. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. we are given the meditations of the hermit.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. 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. and this is no accident. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. (part of his romance Blanquerna).
by seeing the Sign of God in the east. all errors are implanted in the world. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. By means of these letters. west. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. we find the following: “They asked the Lover.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved.’”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. and that is the book. we are also participating in this relationship. just as the writer is in his book. out of arrogance or presumption.’ They asked him. images. since my Beloved contains all. images. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. but for purposes of clarity. and by writings. rather than my Beloved in the world.” In this falsified knowledge. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. but of those done with the wrong attitude. ‘Yes. The cosmos represents the divine writing. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. This extraordinary art. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. Lull used more letters. and profaning holy things with figures. 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. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. And through presumption. he condensed his art into nine letters. north and south. and writings. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. invoking evil spirits as good angels. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. Here we find a clear condemnation. However. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. Further. Of course. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. as the readers of Lull’s book. most of all in the exposition of his art. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. whose influence extended across Europe.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. Originally. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. and images. not of figures. that is. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. and writings in themselves.
Hence in many respects. The Lullian art. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. found in the Ars compendiosa. and gluttony. emerging as it did largely in a Spanish ambience perfectly suited to the meeting not only of the primary currents of medieval Christian esotericism—including the chivalric and troubadour—but also of Islamic and Jewish esotericism. and numerous other arrangements. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. for instance.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. 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. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. whether?. angel. prudence. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. tables. and avarice. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. 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. concordance. and so forth. or that from the Ars brevis. difference. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. 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. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning.” C signifies “greatness. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. At the same time. B—Bonitas. In the full art. what?. it includes and transcends logic. B signifies. justice. for example. trees. . God. Lull himself combined them using circles. For instance. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. 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. E—Potestas. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. depending upon how the letters are combined. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. triangles. Of course his work is unique. For this reason.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. “goodness. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. I— Veritas.
and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. 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. or English gnostic. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. And as literature. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. In these traditions. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. intricately woven. 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. however. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. troubadour. It is. Rather. but this is virtually never the case. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). French. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. the words. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. Christian. Rosicrucianism. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. 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. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. and Freemasonry. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. . it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books.or eighteenth-century German. the chivalric. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry.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. but what is more. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. of course. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions.
and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. for instance.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. . “The affinity with the language. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. disclosing them only in parabolic language. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world.9 Yet at the same time. terminology.” Scholem concludes. and elsewhere in Europe. 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. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. 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. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. But the Bahir. and Kabbalism more generally. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. And in fact. 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. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. For instance. and cosmogony. Castile. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. The book Bahir. and thus Kabbalism. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. also may have roots elsewhere. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region.8 But for our purposes. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. number.E. dating to the Talmudic period. 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. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism.
the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew.” (that is. writing the Names of God) and through this power. and natural realms at once. said to symbolize the abdomen.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. In section 124. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. for example. which comprise a total of 613 letters. the tonal accents. as a female is fertilized from the male. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. supported by some contemporary testimony.11 Of course. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. but another view. he wrote the entire work without any precedent.” Indeed. spiritual. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). 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. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos.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. caught up in the spirit. including the human body. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. informing the cultural. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. 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. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. There are several major schools of thought on the origin of this vast and complicated work: some hold that Moses de Leon really did copy the Zohar from an earlier version by Shimon bar Yohai. But in any event. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. For example.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be.
Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. not even Moses. in this context. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them.” One can easily see.” about which no one. utterance. 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. For instance. we are told. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. all are found in this Name. and yod in turn becomes twenty. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life. the tenth letter. but My Face will not be seen. . is allowed to ask questions. 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.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. Through this kind of multiplication.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. in the Fountain of Wisdom.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. yet when these Names are removed. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. Here. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. or aleph. action . . one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding.” which may or may not itself be an “a.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah.”17 By investigation. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it.” 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. an ¯ “ether. eighty. . inquiry . In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. whispering. the essence of everything. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence.”14 In other words. . “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. corresponding to yod. all comprehension and thought. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt.” 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. from reading this extraordinary work. out of it emerges the Names.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. voice. and 160.”18 This. speech. made transparent so . is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. forty. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. so to say. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness.
sometimes without. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . All of these exist. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. including thought.20 For that matter. Medieval Kabbalism. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. ’En sof literally means “infinity. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. as Scholem remarks.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. broadly speaking. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. that of hardened or congealed materiality. then. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. emerges. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. 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.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. but from the other. but also metaphysical.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. is not only cosmological. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. Indeed. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. not from this side. 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
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traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of
language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century
But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. Here. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. Spain. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. where one finds literature and religion fused. intricacy. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. however unfamiliar to us today. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. that ultimately all beings will be saved. And when we look at Kabbalism. Such an approach to literature. For Kabbalah. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral.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. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. literature represents portals into the transcendent. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. that is. ramified throughout religious and literary history. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. Indeed. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. after all. or vice versa. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. or vice versa. In the eighteenth century. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. In the twentieth century. But before discussing these implications. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. and beauty. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. surface is nothing and depth is everything. which is. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. much less the possibility of transcendence. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. . To such approaches. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written.
by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. When we look at European alchemical works. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. hence on the one hand religious. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. alchemy. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. not entirely ‘pagan. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. itself also highly literary: the koan. forces one to wrestle with it alone. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. on the other transmitted by way of literature. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry.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. as the “art of Hermes. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. we cannot help but notice religious references. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. Indeed. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. So too. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. to work it through. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. However. like the alchemical expression or riddle.’ yet not entirely Christian. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. . Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. To the first-time observer. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. Of course. as we saw earlier.
Ramon Lull. and the spiritualizing of the body. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. be they in the mineral. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova.. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. and Morienus of the seventh century C. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. and takes place by way of fire. in the revelation of paradise. put another way.E. even if it does not entirely belong to these. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). plant. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. or al-Rhazi (ca. George Ripley (fifteenth century). that is. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. 825–932 C. at heart. 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. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry.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. it is certain that such a historical recitation would do little to unveil our primary theme: how religion and literature coincide at the juncture of consciousness in the Western esoteric traditions. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. For alchemy extends into many realms. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. After all. thirteenth century). either.E. . What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. Olympiodoros. as has historical placement. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost.E. Synesius. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. the vegetable. alchemical literature.. One places oneself in the line of what is.—latinized as Rhazes). who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. Indeed. a tradition transmitted through literature. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. All of these authors did write on alchemy. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. even if its work resembles these in some respects. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. Roger Bacon. Thus. or the animal kingdom. the embodying of spirit.
” that is. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. . bracketed by mythological references. and author Michael Maier. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works.” 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. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. and thou knowest all. If thou knowest the substance and the method. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). physician.” In other words. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. seek not many utensils for thy labor. “The Golden Tripod. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book .”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. Maier. of course. and gave it to us by mighty toil. Here. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. it is enough. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. were. . we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. Thomas Norton. . His title. Indeed. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. composer. in his preface. and are to come.
all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. and to the queen’s left. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. that which is visible.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. while the Moon. to become impalpable . a king and a queen.” With its spiritual essence. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do.” pleads the case of her husband. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. before him a burning barrel. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. and that which is palpable. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. including two archers shooting at targets. is at once literary and practical. . a half-naked man with a scythe. in the background a dead tree stump. being bereft of images .” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. and this Mars has done.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. and a man sowing seeds. over a fire. the Sun. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. the king bearing a staff. Shortly thereafter. and proved of the greatest efficacy. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. . a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. and it is clear from what Valentinus himself writes that he devoted himself intensely to “the study of the powers and virtues which God has laid into metals and minerals: and the more I searched the more I found. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. as well as an angel blowing a horn.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. Here you see the perfection of our Art. on the far left side a single candle. while around him are various figures. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. to be invisible.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. despite its elliptical means of expression. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. the queen a three-flowered plant. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan.
But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. 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.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. and so was let go. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. of . In recent times. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. two of living sulphur. so as not to lose legibility over time. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. and two of willow charcoal. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. Cremer in this. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. and prepared in about four days. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. Dalton said he was happy to die. of course. three of rabusenum. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. 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.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. a man named Herbert. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. and tortured for four years.”35 And indeed. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. Such. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. strong and pure. two of orange arsenic. his last testament. we are told. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton.
for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. not all evestra are benefic. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. To say. Imagination governs the development of things. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. not only by looking at words on a page. allegories. but is joined with them in the imagination. water. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. literary allusions. one may know the inner nature of anything. then. vegetable. fire. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. not merely from the outside and as other. air. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. According to Paracelsus. Through these evestra. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. Of course. We may ‘read. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. to carry it within. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. but also through the power of the imagination. its subtle essence. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. Paracelsus tells us. ethereal counterparts. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. one branch of alchemy. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. But in any event. And of course. poems. epigrams.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. 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.’ then. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. Confronted with such a colloquy. and animal realms. Spagyric medicine.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. for they occupy different dimensions within it. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing.
but that in this particular worldview. . like Valentinus’s. emphasize their recipe quality. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. 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. indeed. and mist. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). even here physical significances of alchemy are implied.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. light air.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. 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. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. .74). . these two poles became further separated. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. This is the true Ground of Nature . a matter of . philosophy. It is as though here alchemy. more real than what we see in the physical. including Romans 1. as a spirit.” and to a host of Biblical references. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . Genesis 1:27. the true medicine and theology. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. fire. 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. while others. . But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. II Chronicles 13:5. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. like Cremer’s testament. wine. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. and so forth. Of course. may be interpreted in both ways at once. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. it is entirely real. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. The terms used in its title—oil. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. but here are clearly spiritualized. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ.
here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. inward dimension. but here. Salt. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. Oil. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. spiritual dimensions of the work. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. However. these terms have an alchemical provenance. just as we find for instance Islamic . or Water is. in harmony” (II. .62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. easily translates into a dominant religion. Oil. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. and when either one is absent. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. but the Sun light.105). for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. Thus. is a perspective that is all depth. the author writes “That the earth is dark. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. nor whence they emerge (II. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. Water. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. And so we find the three One. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. Yet alchemy. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Fire. as a kind of counterpoint.77). a true Astrologus. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. and a true Medicus. like Hermeticism. and one three .83). In fact.93). for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. we are told.83).80). that is the mystery wherein all lies. the depths. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. of existence. for instance. .
Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). of the second. Kabbalah.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. from spiritual to physical. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. Pordage’s work. of course. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. on mercury. Indeed. This is not . and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. on salt. 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. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. astrological. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. But such rumors aside. including “Chymie” or alchemy. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. 1675). astrology. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. 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. Christian theosophy. and he and his spiritual circle. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. and Kabbalistic themes. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. and of the third. and gnostic metaphysics. not merely a pastiche. beginning with the organization of the first section. The implication. on sulfur. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710).
von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. but might well also be called pansophic. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. and calcify it by hand. 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 . Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). . 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. . diagrams. sulfur. in other words. then in a Liquorem . and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework.” “Thronen. diagrams. “Alchimische Fragen. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt.” Further. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim.” and so forth. charts. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. . he elided many details. meaning the transcendent Godhead. das himmlische Manna genannt. Here. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. . some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding.” “Cherubim. and instructions. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. For instance. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . Indeed. and in this regard he succeeded. including D. to properly prepare mercury. with a plethora of astrological symbols. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet.64 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E to say that all of his sources were entirely accurate—for instance. Christian scripture. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. of Pisa. tables. At the same time. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. or mercury. and “Manna Coeleste. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety.
which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. alchemy is like learning to use a language. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. One must learn both to ‘read. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. In this sense. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. but even more in the perfection of humanity. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. Here. we can easily see. vegetable. however far-reaching. recipes. water. a natural homology between alchemy and art. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. fire. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. of course. Alchemy. broadly seen. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. Thus we may well say that. In some respects. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. 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. Alchemy.’ in the broadest possible sense. is a relatively modern phenomenon. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. so that everything—mineral. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. and images. like a painting. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. including not only chemicals and equipment. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. for example.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. but also in the microcosm of the artist. both seek to perfect this creativity. and that we will shortly examine further.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist.’ There is. and to ‘write. animal. of course. as well as with what these represent. letters. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. or grammars. air.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself.
as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. between the observer and that which is observed. in the manner of a mathematical equation. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. one would have the solution. both of physics and of literary criticism. It is true that more recently theorists. and the divine. However. were one to decipher what x and y mean. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. and science are one. no doubt of that. Oral commentary by a master is important. The ‘solution. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. 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. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. Indeed. literature. Rather. But in alchemical works.’ in the case of alchemy. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. Contemporary views of literature. between subject and object. like those of science. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. In alchemy. Here in alchemy. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. and the divine in ever more profound ways. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. In Christian terms. and the restoration of the right . except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. humanity. 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. This is by no means to suggest. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. like Jung. humanity.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. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. Just as in Christian mysticism one finds that lines of influence are chiefly and perhaps sometimes exclusively literary— inspiration leaps from Dionysius to John Scotus Erigena to Eckhart and Tauler. I would use the word decoding. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. nature. religion. extends into a range of realms at once.
the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. 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. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. In the study of Western esotericism. and Freemasonry. and against the divine. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. As we have seen. Indeed. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. but in relation to a host of other currents. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. in particular Christian theosophy. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. R O S I C R U C I A N . This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. especially during the eighteenth. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. divided against the world. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. So it is with alchemy. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. in the modern era. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. PA N S O P H I C . and twentieth centuries. We should also keep in mind the growing split. Rosicrucianism. pansophy. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. between the sciences and the . nineteenth. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . 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. against ourselves.
we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. quite the opposite movement. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. or Aurora. medicine and astrology. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. the discovery of more complex technology. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. comparative and syncretic. Rather. John Pordage. near Poland. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. and geology. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. the fields of alchemy. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. in Western esotericism we find. and drawing from his visionary experiences. in the sciences. the emergence of biology. The Copernican revolution. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. a city on the eastern side of Germany. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). our approach being thematic. But Western esotericism. and in religion. including. archaeology. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. say. to name only a few of the most luminary. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. However. at least in the secular world. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. illustration and literature.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. chemistry. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. It is true that. practiced medicine and astrology. explored theology and metaphysics. nor is that our aim. wrote literary works. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. in the arts. as well as De Signatura . this sense of unity dissolved. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. physical chemistry from metaphysics. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. and Franz von Baader. rather than seeking to separate. Indeed.
Rerum (The Signature of All Things), Christosophia, and numerous letters and shorter works. Even these titles reveal the connections between Böhme and the earlier traditions we have discussed: Mysterium Magnum, with its elaborate exegesis of Genesis, is certainly indebted to the Kabbalistic tradition; The Signature of All Things is an extended discussion of, among many topics, the Hermetic doctrine of signatures developed by Paracelsus; and Christosophia, often translated as The Way to Christ, entails a chivalric ethic of fidelity to the feminine figure of Wisdom, the Virgin Sophia. What is more, there unquestionably are profound parallels between Böhme’s writings and ancient Gnosticism, parallels that became even clearer in later theosophic figures like the English Philadelphians.43 Thus we can see how Böhmean theosophy reveals the syncretism so characteristic of modern esotericism more generally; here numerous traditions meet and are fused into a profound new union that was to have enormous influence on the subsequent history of Western esotericism. Böhme’s work, according to his own testimony, derived chiefly from his own personal experience, but there is evidence that he had extensive contacts with Hermetic and Kabbalistic circles of his day, including lengthy discussions with Abraham von Frankenberg, himself an author on Kabbalistic subjects. That Böhme’s writing emerged from his own visionary perceptions and inspiration is unquestionable, for he wrote with authority and certainty about a vast range of cosmological and metaphysical principles. What is more, he developed a particular language, drawing upon Hermetic, alchemical, and Kabbalistic sources, to express this inspiration, a special terminology with both Latinate and Germanic roots. But Böhme drew from prior traditions as well, and his work may be described as unique or as a brilliant synthesis, for both are true. Although Böhme’s terminology and mode of expression are often difficult, the basic elements of his thought are not. It is true that Böhme presents a complex cosmology, with his exposition of the Ungrund, or abyss, that precedes existence and that corresponds in Kabbalism to the ’en sof, and in Christian mysticism to Eckhart’s Godhead; with his exposition of the seven source-spirits; and with his unfamiliar terms like limbus, lubet, and schrack, describing hidden principles or aspects of the creative process. Yet Böhme has been popular for centuries—from Germany to Russia and America—among those drawn to direct spiritual experience, and this popularity derives from the fact that while his doctrines are almost inexhaustible, the fundamental nature of Böhme’s teaching is clear and simple. Here I will compress a great deal in the hope of sketching the outlines of Böhme’s thought. Böhme held that before the cosmos came into being, there was the Ungrund, or transcendent abyssal origin. From this emerged two realms, the dark-world of wrath and the paradisal light-world, and after a series of primal catastrophes, a “third principle,” physical nature. Human beings
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can participate in all three of these principles; some people belong to the wrathworld of fury and destructiveness, some to the paradisal light-world, but mostly we find ourselves mediating among all of these. Our purpose as human beings, simply put, is to transmute the wrath-quality in ourselves into paradisal light and love. This process of transmutation, a kind of spiritual alchemy, is true religion; without it, religion is merely outward “Babel,” the appearance without the reality. Böhme’s approach to language is of particular interest to us, for, quite in line with the numerous currents of the Western esoteric traditions that preceded him, Böhme created a complex linguistic mysticism. In Aurora, Böhme’s first book, he introduced this mysticism of the word, writing that “The whole power of the Father speaks, out of all the qualities, the Word, i.e., the Son of God. The same word, or the same sound, spoken by the Father, issues out of the Salniter, or the powers of the Father, and out of the Father’s Mercurius, or sound . . . for the outspoken Word remains as a glory or majestic command before the king, but the sound, issuing through the word, executes the command of the Father which he has spoken through the word, and in this is the birth of the Holy Trinity. The same takes place in an angel or in a man” (vi.2). Böhme’s language here is resonant with alchemical and Jewish allusions, but these allusions appear in a clearly Christian context, and although they refer to the Word in the Trinity, they also refer to the word in humanity. Böhme extends this linguistic mysticism to every living thing. In his giant commentary on Genesis, Mysterium Magnum, he writes that “every creature has its own center for its outspeaking, or the sound of the formed word within itself, both eternal and temporal beings: the unreasoning ones as well as man; for the first Ens has been spoken out of the sound of God, by Wisdom, out of her center into the fire and light, and has been formed into the fiat, and entered into compaction. The Ens is out of the eternal, but the compaction is out of the temporal, and therefore in everything there is something eternal hidden in time” (xxii.2). Here Böhme elaborates on the metaphysics of what he also discusses in De Signatura Rerum, the esoteric view older than Pythagoras that everything in creation emerges out of its resonating linguistic, sonic, energetic origin as an emanation or manifestation of an archetype. What is more, there is a teleological significance to this doctrine. For if all beings preëxist their material manifestation in the archetypal realm of the word, after manifestation each manifested thing will return to its transcendent origin, that belonging to love returning to love and that belonging to wrath returning to wrath. Böhme writes: “In that quality in which each word in the human voice in the act of outspeaking forms and manifests itself, either in the love of God, as in the Holy Ens, or in the wrath of God; in the same quality will it be taken up again therein after it has been spoken out. The false word becomes infected by the devil, and sealed up for its [future] detriment, and is received within the
Mysterium of the wrath, in the quality of the dark-world. Each thing returns with its Ens to where it has originated” (xxii.6). This is not predestination, exactly, but rather the sifting of the chaff from the wheat at time’s end. We can see here how language is intimately tied up with the metaphysics of love and wrath. In the fallen world, wrathfulness is the principle of separation and objectification as well as of anger, and so the language of extreme ratiocination also belongs to the wrath. Reason has its place, but when it becomes separated from love, it becomes objectifying and destructive and a functionary of wrath, while language divorced from its transcendent origin becomes Babel or babble. Yet all of this refers to the fallen world, the sphere of discord, chaos, confusion. The means of order’s restoration is the Word, the restoration of light and love in one’s life. But such a restoration takes place through a process of awakening or illumination that is a process of transmuting wrath into love, darkness into light. This process is also that of restoring language from its fallen state (as a means of objectification) into its primordial state of union. This process is the awakening of the true Word in us. Böhme writes that “our whole religion consists in learning how to go out of dissension and vanity and to reënter the one Tree, whence we have come in Adam, and which is Christ in us” (Regener, viii.2). Thus, “he who fully enters into this state of divine rest in Christ arrives through Him at the perception of divinity. He then sees God in himself and everywhere; he speaks with God and God speaks with him, and he understands what is the Word, Essence, and Will of God. Such a one, and no other, is capable of teaching the Word of God himself: for God is one with him, and he wills nothing but what God wills through him” (Mysterium Magnum, xlii.63). The Word of God here has special and profound meaning; it refers to the essence of deity, the transcendent origin of existence. And by realizing this Word, one restores all subordinate language as well as nature itself (whose creatures each also incarnate divine signatures or words) to their primordial unitive or paradisal state. From all of this we can see that the fundamental impetus of Böhme’s work is integrative, not on a cultural so much as on an individual, primal level. Böhme calls the individual toward reintegration or union, and it is the individual nature of this call that has subsequently attracted so many people, in such diverse social situations, toward theosophy. But at the same time, we can easily see how this same integrative impulse aimed at individual transformation could as well be applied on a wider cultural scale, as for instance as the foundation of an effort to reunify the sciences and the humanities with religion. And in fact, such an effort is precisely what we find happening over the century following Böhme’s life, in the movement called Rosicrucianism. It may be, as some scholars have speculated, that Böhme was himself familiar with the same movement which, ten years before Böhme’s death, began to emerge under the name Rosicrucian, with the publication of the
for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. And of course this brief work.” C. But in any event. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. according to the Fama. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. in the Orient.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. The Rosicrucians’ goal. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. are to be collected by the wise.” however.. they could collect Librum Naturae. generally speaking. and later. even if at times such orders did exist. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection.. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. R. caused a great stir in Europe. R. Hermeticism. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. and this is the “book M.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. “or a perfect method of all arts. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. returns eventually to Germany. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. R. For from the very beginning of the Fama.”46 When C. and why he is called Microcosmos. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. like its complement the Confessio. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. translates the “book M. R.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).” These “Books of Nature.” into good Latin from Arabic. Indeed. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. if not universalism. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. 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. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. C. of Christian theosophy as well. like us. Not coincidentally. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced.
of eclecticism or universalism. The description is often hard to follow. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. or hope for. and hidden to the wicked world. that you could so read in one only book. are now. undestroyed. and shall be) hath been. 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.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. or are able to believe or utter. a century old. sciences. so that no one might later be deceived. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. the foundations and contents of all faculties. with a large dictionary . . is. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. .”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. Interestingly. recur as well in the Confessio. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. but follow only Christ. wish.” There is more. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. first. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. it is to read the universal book. . . every one with their several figures and sentences. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. and arts. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . Among other questions. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. like the book. .”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . full of geometric symbolism. . they also made the first part of the book M. and by them was made the magical language and writing. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . “After this manner. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. called I. Yet once again.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. and come into our brotherhood. than that which is the head and sum. and withal by reading understand and remember. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures.” the Fama continues. by four persons only. belongs to the mind and imagination. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. and of reading the mysterious book of books.
an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. and endue them with learning . Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. the Bible.”52 “These characters and letters. a new era for mankind. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . and above all. 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. 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. yet shall we never be manifested . and writing in a “magic language. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. All of this. or sixth age. of course.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora.” Such an idea of a magic language has. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. a very long history in the West.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. for instance. and made. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. or worse than nothing. . unto any man without the special pleasure of God. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. into all beasts . .”55 The implication is that here. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. a new language for ourselves. for instance. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. . 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. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. with the date 1604. . who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. of course.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. without and against the will of God. yea. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. . in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. . yea. and quite probably to Egypt. and have found out.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. metahistorical events at the end of time. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself.
Here. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. 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. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. on a pansophic mysticism. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. as well as in subsequent literature.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. or intelligences. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. discovered the “Enochian language. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. disappearing around 1620. who. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. 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 . particularly in France. and the outrageously baroque. that is. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. By 1623. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. the Confessio. R. or pansophia. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. was of a non-sectarian. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. and it too has been used in magical workings. brilliant. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. The Rosicrucian dream. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. or why. as Frances Yates notes. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. Here.’s tomb. peaceful. demons. 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. 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. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols.” 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. 1604. John Dee (1527–1604).
and inquiry into nature more generally. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. mechanism. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. including. derived from alchemy. 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.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). or magia naturalis. It is true that chemistry. in order to form the basis for a new. herbalism. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as .. but like Dee. cabalistic. not specifically Christian. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. and gnostic. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. and technologism. often with Kabbalistic influence. various forms of magic. Paracelsus. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. Ruechlin. Once Taught in the Magia of the Egyptians and Persians and Now Rightly Called the Pansophia of the Venerable Society of the Rosy Cross (n. Pansophy. it emphasizes magic. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. cabala. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. 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. The pansophic view. healing. In many respects. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. in contrast to theosophy. and Michael Maier. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. 1618)]. magical. for instance. alchemy. Christian or not. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. is universal. The most obviously included is natural magic. alchemical. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. which is specifically Christian gnosis. of course. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. We might recall that.p.
including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. and a series of . one finds a range of possibilities opening up. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. But Chemistry]. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. de La Rose-Croix. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. magic squares. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. as a somewhat medieval figure.A. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. almost all. Cabball. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. In some respects. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. and much else. et Hyperphysica. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic.. including a French edition titled F. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. Philosophia. diagrams.O. nee non Magia. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. of vast and intricate tables. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. Among the first of these. including sorcery. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. Metaphysica.M. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. D.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. planetary correspondences. even if it is illicit. chiefly under the title Physica. in later Rosicrucianism. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. we tend to think of Faust. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe.
in time and in eternity. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. John Dee.” and “Mineral Seed. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. partaking in both. in scholastic theology. in visual form. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. or to Rosicrucianism. surrounded by winged angelic forms. of its hyperphysical dimensions.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. of course. and Holy Spirit. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”].” and so forth. 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. for instance. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. the greatest occultist of his day. Here.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy.” “Heavenly Seed. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer.M.A. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed.O.” “Animal Seed. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. and with the word Chaos. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. . as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world. marked also Father.A. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies.M. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. Son. for instance. that is.” “Vegetable Seed. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. here we have a different focus.O.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era.
science. was John Heydon. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. and specifically. the arts. author of such works as Theomagia. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. not a visionary. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. originally a scientist. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. Freemasonry. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. Another such figure. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. invented an industrial process. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. of course. but published only in German). For all of the Rosicrucian. truly a Renaissance man. which. not so very long ago. theosophic. of course. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. the social and political realm. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. and associated with the vast . We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). or the Temple of Wisdom. One sees this also. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. who studied minerology. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. in other words. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. stretching right into the nineteenth century. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. unlike these other more individualistic movements. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. (London: 1665).
contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. of course. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. Masonry. 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. Fludd. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. the arts. Such publication was. his father. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). the Kabbalah. Indeed. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. Sir Thomas Fludd. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. Plato and the Bible. and the sciences. semireligious occult fraternity. Of course. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. 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. 1617). primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. and during this time began work on his major treatises. in 1616 and 1617. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. Indeed. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. having received a knighthood for his military service. Robert Fludd went to St. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. but the Freemasons endured the longest. Martianus Capella and. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries.” published in Leiden. to a speculative.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. on which he explicitly drew. and Rosicrucianism. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. and although . John’s College in Oxford. not surprisingly. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. Jewish. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. of course. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. 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. Like Paracelsus himself. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism.
By the early 1630s. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. born to an aristocratic family. Dr.” Elias Ashmole. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. Ashmole. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. and back to England. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. and who collected much on and by John Dee—so that one might well say that the esoteric movement here went from England to the Continent. it 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. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. John Dee. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. . Marin Mersenne. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. Dee’s son. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. 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. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason.”61 But for our purposes. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. astrologer. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein.60 Then again. and assiduous bibliophile. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. Arthur Dee. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. Himself an alchemist. But in any event. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646.
and only philosophers of the English Revolution. . was not simply an antiquarian.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. using a symbolic metalanguage.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. John Dury (1596–1680). This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. . were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. except to his own spiritual son. one could ignore it. .” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. and must remain so. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). of course. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. never referred to it again. . himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism.”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. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . It is significant that Ashmole. All of this. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. but they are in any case gnostic.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. when Backhouse thought he was dying. or as Kabbalistic. Samuel. and John Comenius (1592–1690). after recording this revelation.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670).62 Backhouse’s father. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. The true name is hidden. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia.64 These three men. the real . of course. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together.
3. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. Also important here is the third point. according to the Constitutions. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. Chymical. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. 4. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. However. Early in the eighteenth century. . . Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. Freemasonry. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. Philosophicall. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. Such a language. . so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. and Mechanical. 2. esoteric: to limit those who understand it.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. . there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. 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.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. But most important for us is the final point. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. needless to say. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. . Arts and Sciences. The aim of a magical language is.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. like the symbolism of alchemy.” certainly a pansophic goal. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism.
. In it. excepting only theology and politics. Ramsay. And during this time. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. announced in Ramsay’s oration. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. a theosophic circle in London. Italy. . The work has already been commenced in London. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. and elsewhere exhort all the learned men and all the artisans of the Fraternity to unite to furnish materials for a Universal Dictionary of the liberal arts and useful sciences. solid. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. or ignore esotericism. Masonic values of rationalism. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . for instance. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. In this oration. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. great. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). luminous. suppress. became prominent in French Masonry. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. with its general tendency to reject. deism. it is not surprising that this project. fellow craftsman. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. England. On the one hand.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. while publishing numerous books. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era.68 Within Masonry itself. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. and master mason. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. had an exoteric. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. After her death. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. especially in France. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. On the other hand. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. especially in England. including. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. . he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. nonsectarian basis. and indeed. fraternal Freemasonry. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret.
of human and divine architecture both.” In other words.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word.8). In the Graham manuscript of 1726. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. even to this day. . God has sealed the six directions of space. by which. As we have already seen.”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. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. based as it is on the craft of building. six for the clergy. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. Freemasonry. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. and six for the fellow craft. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. I answer it was God in six Terminations. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. theosophic. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. Indeed. In other words. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. 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. specifically. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. which is as follows: one word for a divine. to wit I am. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. that is.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. Rosicrucian. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles.
in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. the theme of our next section. in Western esotericism. pansophy. nature. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. not just as the means of communication among people. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. not consume it. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. Here. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos.” or signature. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. of course. and the divine. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. Kabbalah. .86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. Rosicrucianism. including humanity). The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. Finally. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. including alchemy. and Christian theosophy. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. but as the actual medium linking humanity. Here. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. For according to Western esotericism generally. What is more. Above all. its secret “silable. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. And this role is played out through reading and writing. Masonry. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. magic. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together.
Figure 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( F r a n k f u r t : 1 6 1 8 ) . .
from .Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .
). Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. . edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme.
Theosophia Revelata. .Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme.). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
. Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.).Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme.
. which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. O p u s M a g o .
as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye. Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration.Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. O p u s M a g o . (Frankfurt: 1784).
. O p u s M a g o .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .
Figure 9 Cecil Collins. Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations. and the evocative. .” 1988. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. “The Music of Dawn.
“Paradise.Figure 10 Cecil Collins. .” 1976.
Which was to please. Or sent to Naples. the magician Prospero. And pardoned the deceiver. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. Now I want Spirits to enforce. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. or else my project fails. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . has brought the play’s action to an end. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. And what strength I have’s my own. The Tempest. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. The main character. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. Which is most faint.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.
for example. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. and freed him. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. Reading. is a prosaic matter. for most of us. having relinquished his magical power. to the audience.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. traditionally. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. but there is no transference of magical power. Suddenly. to sing or to say into being. Conventionally. E. for instance. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. Here. winged creature in an ornate room. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. shows a tall. as audience. That is. standing above a reclining woman. In this most magical of plays. pansophy. it is often inverted and does not . letters. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. Rosicrucianism. 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. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. today. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. Here Prospero. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. and Freemasonry. As you from crimes would pardoned be. and words—often Hebrew. To be a vehicle for the right words. in effect gives his wand to his audience.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). via the main character. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. often little more than the accumulation of data. where the poet-singer is. also a magician. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. To incant is to enchant. are the magicians. to invoke the forces of creation itself. In all of these esoteric traditions. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. is to touch the nature of being itself. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. there are numbers. Initially. we realize that we. Warlick. by virtue of his skill with words. Let your indulgence set me free.
Milosz traveled widely. split further into sections on poetry and prose. to the magical fiction of C. more . and so I will not discuss them further here. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. It is certainly worth doing.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. third. While a broad. as can in fact be said of the works of. into the world of French intelligentsia. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. not only in the case of Ernst. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. more or less. secular or not. Canticle of Knowledge: O. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. horizontal survey is of value. for instance. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. Here.. as with Emerson or Rilke. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. However. sometimes more implicitly. during which time his family sold their estate. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. But his learning is of a particular kind. (1886–1961). but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. D. turning then to H. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). but in that of the entire surrealist movement. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. the poet H. of even greater value is a vertical. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. Naturally. V. and entry. D. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. S.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. as with Yeats or H. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. and perhaps for someone else to do. V. sometimes explicitly. I will leave such a project for another time. D. his mother Jewish. After a good education. with sections on each of the major currents. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. for instance. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939).
and both wrote in dry. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. in vision. in fact. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. also a tactile visionary. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. . as he saw it. Not so Milosz. Among these figures. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. come to fruition in literary form. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. which are what concern us here. for that matter. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. Goethe. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. in 1914. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. and.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. Milosz’s poetry. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. and became. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. Kabbalah. S. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. and Western esotericism in general. Then. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). William Blake (1757–1827). create a kind of lineage of such figures. hell. and the dwelling places of spirits. and perhaps remains.” However. These Swedenborg saw. One can. of heaven. Eliot. a Don Juanesque figure. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. theosophy. who as we will recall in his latter years tried to reunite the bythen separated fields of the humanities and the sciences with his works on plants and color. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. Swedenborg was. he experienced a spiritual illumination. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote.
which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. [For those who. to awakening it in his reader. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist.]”7 . les voleurs de douleur et de joie. the passionate pursuit of the Real. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. seems bound.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. that he anticipated a new poetry. from the cosmos. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. At this juncture.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. de science et d’amour. The canticle continues: “A ceux. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being.”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. astronomy. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 91 Here it may be useful to remark on the kind of new science we see emerging in these writers. have received and already know. thieves of joy and pain.” which. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. but indeed. qui. crown of human knowledge. through a new metaphysics. on 14 December 1914.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. and also prehistory and archaic history. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights.” telling us that “poetry. and especially in Milosz. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. But the poet. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. / Les autres. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. ayant demandé. Cartographers of consciousness.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. n’entendront rien à ces choses. the observer looks outward. and in particular. as the organizer of archetypes. knowledge and love. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. and like Blake. / Others. on reçu et savent déjà. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. and especially the figures we are discussing here. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. to join up with ancient teachings. seems called upon. will understand nothing of these things. having asked. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems.
” writing that to understand the origin of language. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. addressed to the latter.” 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]. lumière. etc. mais bien les père des objects sensibles.”8 This gnostic canticle is. water.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. “their substance is nameless. 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. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. but living. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. darkness. not like “Patmos. have received. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. but truly fathers of sensible objects. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. But characteristically. 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. sun. light.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. as well as the names of metals. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . / For these names are neither brothers. and already know. earth. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. ténèbres. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil.” We think that the sensible world is situated. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. from Pythagoras to Plato.]”9 In other words. of course. but it is not so. terre.” Indeed. In fact. to the initiate. sel. but negators. sang. salt.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. nor sons. he continues. those who are not affirmers. eau.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. ni les fils.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. blood. “meditation on the origin of language. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. soleil. this “situated place.
he implicates us in the poem. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. and only describes what he has seen. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. Milosz exultantly writes. Adam. At such points.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. he calls us to the celestial gold. is the “key to the world of light. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. mute as lead. and the gold of celestial memory. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. he tells us. And so it is here. . / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. a revelation. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. when Milosz addresses us directly. muet comme le plomb.” “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. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère .” Simply that. . which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. or in Milosz’s words.]”13 As we might recall. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. Here.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. Milosz tells us again. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. that is. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. for as he told us before.” There is the earthly gold. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. of love and of wrath. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. of the primal . . 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. of blessing and of desolation. . the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances.” 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. 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.
Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass.” We might recall that the mirror. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. different.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. Milosz muses on his early poetry.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. and looked behind him.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un .” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced.” selfknowing.” “immense. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. this immense. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. / étant dans le lieu même. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. le seul situé. Luciferic brain].” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. but “great trials of negation. we find a spiritual corporeality.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum.]” Then one day. Thus. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. wise. chaste archetypes. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. In the concluding lines of the canticle. Milosz tells us. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. innocent. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. / being in place itself.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. for that matter.” and “marrow of iniquity. and a kind of corporeality of language. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. of light and darkness. [I am always in the same place. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. in the visionary writings of Böhme. not light and serenity of recognition. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. / played with me as a father with his child. in theosophic tradition. and is the province of those who speak pure language. hideous. and this is the “solar egg. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. the only one situated. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. Milosz writes.” an “eternity of horror. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. delirious. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him.”15 Here we find. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. of those who speak pure language. “the Father of Ancients.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge.” “the world of profound. différent. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror.” those “lands of nocturnal din.]”16 See. hideux. rather.
]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. “Master.” is unquestionably alchemical. trois vois—le signe. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. and for our three days to come. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. and since we have now known one another seven years.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. This poem. by the grace of inner vision. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. je te touche le front. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. between the lightworld and the darkworld. Thus the canticle. is especially of interest to us here.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. and his Hymns to the Night. innocents! [The parents sleep there. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way.]” . Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. again three times. [Dear child. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. le signe! [seven times for the past. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. and clothed with the sun. tender metal partners in marriage. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. as though the various elements of his mind were projected outward into a kind of initiatic psychodrama of the kind one also sees in ancient Hermetism or the Mysteries. but refers to an inner alchemy. [1775–1802]). Beatrix. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. tendres métaux époux.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 95 remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. to “tender metal partners in marriage. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone.” replies Beatrix. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. et pour nos trois jours à venir.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. at its end. you speak the truth. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. I touch your brow. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. let us make the sign. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. Qu’ils sont beaux.
or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. I tell you. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. charity. The woman in the poem. yellow. Beatrix. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy.” while the “oil of blind corruption. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. tu te délivres. woman. he comes back to life. charitée. of course. The alchemical . He opens his eyes and is reborn. And in the conclusion of the poem. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. and “Lumière de l’or. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. you liberate yourself. and black. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. partaking rather of a heightened. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. “I see only one. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. The Master forgives me. [My chains of constellations are broken. “I believe it is. 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. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. but a player on the poet’s inner stage.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. leaden and lachrymal. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. and to its incantory language. Beatrice. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. [It is life liberated. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth.]”21 It is.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues.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. [Light of gold. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. but the adept replies. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. is reborn!” Thus once again. The adept watches. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy.” sinks to the depths. white and pale blue. any more than are those of the adept. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes.
When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. eventuates in the birth of Christ in the alchemist or adept: all these traditions are brought together in the service of what we may call an Hermetic-alchemical initiatory psychodramatic poem.” a “faithful and pious narrative. then? Undoubtedly. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader.” The line is the fourth verse. . by Milosz.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. one senses vast expanses around one. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. perfectly awake. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. rests in a horizontal position. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. in what it reveals. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. a light appears. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). At the same instant. The incantory. 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. as unemotional as nature. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral.” and that “In the author’s mind. in other words. or rather. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. is also to participate in it. oneself. the large cloud vanishes. after all.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. by a metallic red-hot egg. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level.: initiate]. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem.
thereafter. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. becomes rounder. Milosz . only he who bows down will be bowed down to. and in this there is a kind of reversal. Without question. we must bow down. stands still. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. just as he ignores and despises that world. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. yet his erudition.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. one may even say. on which it alights like a crown. And authentic literature. but this lengthy excerpt is sufficient to show that even a single rather mundane line in Milosz’s poetry has behind it far more experiential referents than we might ever have expected. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. he is among the most erudite of poets. its secular hedonism and materialism. moving up a little. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. Such experience is of the truly situated. 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. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. that. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. referring to the reader as “my son.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. its brutal mass wars. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. though including many great poets. scientifically. It is perhaps useful. meaning the archetypal realm. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. He insists that in order to understand. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real.23 There is still more. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. because it springs from this archetypal reality. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. at this point.
he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. the School of Alexandria.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. Swedenborg. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. that of the word and the book: un seul mot nouveau le même / cœur qu’au temps des pères bat dans le bois la / pierre et l’eau rien de tou cela qui revient / n’est nouveau toutes ces choses dormaient / dans les livres fermés les livres sous mes / mains se sont ouverts. the mystical eighteenth century.”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.” 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. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages.” and . Plato. Eugène Ledrain. [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.” Milosz continued.” 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. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. sought in them peace of spirit. Claude de Saint Martin. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. passing through the Pre-Socratics. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. Swedenborg. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. from Egypt up to today. Martinez de Pasqually.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. alias René Descartes. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity.
libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. King of the Unified World.” in fact.” which are far more extensive than anything T. . the universal regent of faith.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. . Milosz held. in short. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. it is not books that we are waiting for. in 1938. Joseph de Maistre. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. words. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. 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. wrote for his poetry. inside the books of life and of knowledge. Hiram. Here. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. S.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. Germany.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. and books. as early as 1919. science. Le Forestier. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. King of the unified world. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. . just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. and Savoy. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. In his “Poem of the Arcana. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. my son. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. and the true poet. and art. for instance. 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. 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. the visionary poet. Eliot. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. the books open themselves to him. 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 . if we may coin a word. Under the heading “Hiram. R.
relatively not distant. Religion and science. “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.”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.’ announce their impending appearance.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world.”32 Here. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs .” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. as we have seen.” 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. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. alias René Descartes.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. aspire to holy unification. who announced a coming millennium. he brings in the theme that. like all the continents and all the states of this world. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. Indeed. especially the dream of a world utopia. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature.” Here. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. He writes that “Today. like spirit and matter. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon.34 And Milosz goes on to ask.
sought the widest possible range. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana.”39 These dreams of universality. the sciences. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. And there are numerous other such examples. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). among them its ritual dress. For us. religious. in his work as in his private life. with a white collar. and scientific fusion. of political. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. and that he deliberately. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director.”38 Such a group. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. author of The Magus. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. the “science of the divine. moral or social. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. not to say grandiosity. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde.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.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. of course. as we have seen. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). In his work. and the arts via religion. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. Milosz wrote. I am the enemy of exteriorization. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. being the Christ-figure. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. in his letter to James Chauvet. The Master alone will wear a red cap. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. but explicitly Christian. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). Our group will have no more than twelve members. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. however. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. the other members being his apostles. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. for instance. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller.” And in his little esoteric group. de Lubicz. . Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité.
S. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. today. Like Prospero in his final speech. However.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. and essays. of course. which outlines the intertwining of H. Indeed. D.. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. we . There are. through his writing. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. numerology. Here. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. and a new golden age. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. H. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). D. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. the Tarot. D. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. In these efforts. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. the poet H. and Kathleen Raine. That H. novels. Rosicrucianism. astrology. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. 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. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. not toward the present. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. and Milosz. D. psychic insights or visions. Indeed. D. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. D. little studied in academe. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. Charles Williams. D. Lewis.’s life and interests. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. a relatively obscure figure. but also for the universality of his aims. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. C. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed.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. magic.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. but toward the future.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known.’s poetry. Although we here will take our leave of them.
explicitly esoteric book. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. like H. D. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. was fascinated by numerology. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. 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.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. overmind.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. save that in H. D. and on the other Margaret Fuller. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. astrology. D. a cap of consciousness . mind. We should begin. H.’s early. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands.”41 Although the major works by H. “The Thistle and the Serpent. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening.. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. as a wrenching spiritual awakening.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. for H. however.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. D. D. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. For it seems clear from her poetry. D. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). very much resembles both of them in certain respects. D. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. Margaret Fuller. D. Notes is a very unusual work. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. D. by recognizing that H. But when we begin to look at H.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. In Esoteric Origins.. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. as many critics have observed. Likewise. In his introduction to H. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). Woman in the Nineteenth Century. D.’s life it is repeated a number of times.
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.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. engage in a union of love and intellect.”43 H. She does write about a “vision of the womb. or awakening into the overmind. one must. we begin to suspect that this odd book of fragments is itself a kind of initiatic book of clues for those very coming artists of the overmind. D. or anemone. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. H. a musician. . centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. 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. except through the intellect. yet make one picture. Into that over-mind. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. a musician. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. syncretic . As we read on through Notes. . which is possible for all. now. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. is a gnostic with a small g. D. D. my forehead. a nonsectarian. contained in a defininte space.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. She writes that to be a true artist. That overmind seems a cap. . second is the life of the intellect. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. The two work separately. Whatever else we may make of it. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. . she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind.42 H. perceive separately. D. H. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. like water. transparent. She places gnosis. jelly-fish. It is like a closed sea-plant.” The minds of the lovers unite. indeed. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. D. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. I visualise it just as well. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. Without doubt. almost like two lenses. and third is the awakening into the overmind. fluid yet with definite body. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. and perhaps when she concludes by conjoining Christ and Dionysius in a poetic vision of their unity with the divine mother as with all of nature. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. as primary to the true artist. affecting a little my eyes .’s work has feminist implications. H. with the gulls and the sky and the earth.
H. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. madness. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was.” here. too.” She writes. devour.” In the next section. All-father. unlocked. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. this. Amen. D.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. and H.” “Tribute to the Angels. Here. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. helpers / of the One.”48 All of this suggests that there is . But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. is a false path. of the “alchemist’s secret. In Notes on Thought and Vision. D.” And the section ends with “illusion. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. boasting.” H. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination.” “arrogance. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. D. dare more. spell. over-confidence. / here is the alchemist’s key. as these entities are “healers.” who “know each other / by secret symbols.” mind “floundered. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. In this respect.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension.” we “nameless initiates. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. D.” H. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. reversion of old values. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. the overmind being above it. / oneness lost. for instance.”45 “Amen.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found .’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. . . pitiful reticence. / born of one mother. D. she holds. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. seek. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. was lost in sea-depth.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. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. She writes “dare. / companions / of the flame. / it unlocks secret doors. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. D. prayer” for healing.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton.47 In M. seek further. E.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy.
’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. little boxes.” “invoke the true-magic. but also those who come after her.”50 Here H. then writes: We have had too much consecration. The next work in H. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide.” .” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. cryptograms. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. D. symbols of Psyche reborn. too little affirmation. she is calling herself to a sacred task. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. too much. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. but this. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. D. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. H. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. / in the light of what went before.’s invocation of Hermes.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. D. artful and curious. continues. / re-vivify the eternal verity.” through painting or writing. this has been proved heretical. conditioned to hatch butterflies . D. devoid of life. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. they are anagrams. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. this passage suggests the complexity. In a well-known passage.” “candle and script and bell. I feel the meaning that words hide.” whose “province is thought. too little: I know. D. H. / inventive.”49 Thus. H. . as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. The words themselves may resemble boxes.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. / lead us back to the one-truth.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. this. D. “patron of alchemists. illuminate what came after. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters.
and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. and so too by implication can we be. how is it you come so near. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . H. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. was writing these poems. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. D. D. so too can the poet be. H. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit.52 These lines reveal many layers.” but re-awakened. D. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. like a ghost. in the high-altar of a ruined building. D.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. indivisible Spirit. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. in an old garden-square. the conditions under which.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. I testify. H. the poet must “melt down and integrate.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. but whereas Rilke could not write during war.” One must “reinvoke. the shattered glass of the past. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. recreated by the poet. saw. it was an ordinary tree. John. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. after all. we entered a house through a wall. we saw the tree flowering. reinvoked in a new form. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. is attempting in her poetry here.
” the name of the final poem in Trilogy.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. music could do nothing with it.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. alluded to. D. and Trilogy in particular. symbol of Hermes. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. In it. D. it is happening everywhere. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). This experience. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. / it was the Holy Ghost—. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. the flowering of the wood.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. D.’s poetry. . In H. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. / . H. / it was a sign. and even more overtly. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. is a gnosis of the word.’s vision. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. D. D. the divine feminine. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . the next section is very important. / the darkness of ignorance. nothing whatever. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. conveyed through the poetry. And this experience is gnosis. Hence H.’s “Tribute to the Angels. . with Saint Michael. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss.’s poetry in general. D.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. H. In this context. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. 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.” This experience “was vision.
the butterfly. D. and that. whether it is con- . thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. to her astonishment.’s Trilogy. allied to Mercury also. was a baptized Moravian. under her “drift of veils. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. D.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. obviously.” “Santa Sophia. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure.’s own heritage. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. She who has been seen “the world over.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. D. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. / out of the cocoon. Hermes is the patron of the artist. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. and the thief.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. as we will see in more detail shortly. They are not. Sophianic spirituality was in H. D. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. D. the Bible. who is also redeemed.” “she carried a book. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. the thief.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa.” she of the Bona dea. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. right into the final poem. in the context of the three poems together. D. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. D. Rather.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. brought into paradise with Christ. 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. / who did not forego our heritage” . And She is “Holy Wisdom.. the writer.” 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.” H. It would be a mistake to presume that because H.110 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E appearing through Mary and through the ancient goddesses.” This refrain. for H. and H. the scribe. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms.” And She is also “Psyche. D.
and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. of mysticism. To understand this mysticism more fully. It is not surprising. however. Likewise. complete with H. The Gift. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. D. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. B. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. Eliot and W. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself.” with the experience of Christ.’s own notes. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism.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. D. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. S. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . 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.” all are interwoven here. D. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. Eve and Mary. H. fear. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. In her poetry. H. we must turn to The Gift. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. that until 1998. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. D.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. D. Hermes and Christ. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. I suppose. as in the original. 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. H. What is more. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. H. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001).
In other words. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. was herself a baptized Moravian. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. D. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. itself. Knapton. 1794). especially those now housed at Yale University. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. H. in the middle of the eighteenth century.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. In toto. H. 1909). D.” of the “Arcana.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. in her notes. 1753). George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. Rimius’s works. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. 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. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. cited by H. D.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. 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. D. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. make clear this distinction. Robinson. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. Mysticism. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. “Old Father Weiss. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. and he was born in Bethlehem. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. H. D. Rimius. We can see the extent and depth of H. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting.”58 About such accusations. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. Pennsylvania. though I must confess. 1755). had done her research. & P. D. Linde.” or Jedediah Weiss. Pennsylvania. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. D. . 1753). her grandmother’s father. it was in fact in her blood. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. D. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. H. in . . accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous .
into The Gift. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. D. Mother. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. . it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. “you just stumble on it. writes. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. referring to Father. D. it does exist. to initiate the reader. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. but also of the older poet H. respected and highly respectable.. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. and Son. conventionally the church. D. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. and its doctrines as representing a pure. 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. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. We were a small community. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. Hilda.” She goes on: . D. there was no hint of this exoticism. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. D. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative.” H. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. . The Moravian Church.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. in short. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. 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. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by 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.. The novel.
we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. as some scholars seem to think. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. “The Secret. Hilda surmises. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. But really “live” it. Williams called a primula. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. In chapter 5 of The Gift. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. The word is like a bee-hive. . in some aspects of the story. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. I mean. Rather. Hilda’s grandmother. indeed. That is how it is. later learning it means Island of Wounds). while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. . . Egyptian . The other bees have gone. but there are no bees in it now. 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. “Christian had left the Secret with me. and even here in her narrative.” The first is when Mamalie. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. cut on a wall at Karnak.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. Then am I for a moment . but Hilda (and along with her. it is what the novel does for H. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. the word stops. . this is the game I play. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. These spiritual mysteries are not. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. A word opens a door. Hilda is wondering if the word alone can serve as a means of initiation so that the spiritual mysteries of her heritage can be continued. . men play a greater role than women.” she told Hilda. A word opens a door . considerably more of this theme to unpack. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. Island of Wonders. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. these are the keys. it is like that little flower that Mrs. I mean. that is why it is so quiet.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. D. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. But there is more. . I am the last bee in the bee-hive. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition.
She and her . not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality.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. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie.” This scroll. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. of wind. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. though. was to decide the future of the whole country . 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.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. it was the laughter of the water. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. had a name for. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. laughing all the time. in particular the Shawnee. According to Mamalie. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. but this was untrue. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. indeed. so that “It was laughing. Greek. though. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact.63 In The Gift.62 Like the Templars. Mamalie continues. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. “like scales running up and down. altogether. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. the answer given by the Spirits. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos.” “the laughter of leaves. Hebrew. said Mamalie. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. D.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. kept in a birch-bark case.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. Pyrlaeus. it is not a confabulation of H.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. This rapport is historically verifiable. but all of them. is not Europe but North America.’s. . . of snow swirling.” not just Minne-ha-ha. bore the names of Cammerhof. done in their picture-writing. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. this laughter that ran over us.
In her notes.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. decoded it and she played it. The Gift. called “New Gnadenhütten. H. who was to die at twenty-five. and then. those hiding in the attic burned alive. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. Wunden Eiland. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. said in her fragmented narrative. Mamalie. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. or Wounded Island.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. in an even more attenuated form. raining down terror from the skies.”69 The two worlds have become one. At the novel’s conclusion.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. We have been shaken out of our ordinary dimension in time and we have crossed the chasm that divides time from time-out-of-time or from what they call eternity. so much so that she never played music again. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. so 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. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda.” 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. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. even refers to the American David Williamson.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. And yet in the very final passages. . domination.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. In 1755. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. 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. D. Christian Seidel. And in a subsequent event. having “burnt it up. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood.” as “Aryan. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel.
. and future continually intermingle. for instance.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. But above all. Her interest in spiritualism. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. not merely as decorations. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. present. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. singing of the Wounds. D. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. the more deeply one looks into her works. past and present.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. Likewise.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. but as integral to her work. both poetic and fictional. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. D. D. H. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. D. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. as well as of timelessness and time. H. H. 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. In this context.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward.’s English present.V. Indeed. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. her work suggests that past. D. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. H. but rather is woven into her entire worldview.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. there. In her poetry and fiction. In her profoundly ambitious works.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. Among major twentiethcentury authors. H. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. and out of which all great work is generated. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. one of the original Moravian initiates.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. As we have seen. D.
meeting and parting. as Adam. but it was only in her later work that we see it. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. We cannot conclude without reference to H. D.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. early seventeenth-century England. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision.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. through her fiction and through her poetry. to be sure. legendary Provence. Elizabeth recalls him to her. has the same root derivation as Seraph. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. Lilith. in his pre-Eve manifestation. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. H. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. and its implications. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. although: I hardly knew my Lord. Vale Ave. After his death. H.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. true we had met in sudden frenzy.71 . timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. D. outlined in entirety. yes. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. the Light-bringer. parted in the dark. Mystery and a portent. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. The Lucifer-Lilith. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. through time—specifically. but at the same time. D. whom we invoke as Lucifer. as history tells us. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. late Rome. dynastic Egypt. may be Angel or Devil. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. and contemporary London. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates.
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. reveal a profoundly esoteric worldview that offers to its readers nothing less than an initiation into and an “inauguration of a new age and a new mythology. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. the Writing. . . just as it dwells in the realm of dreams. “the Mystery. taken in toto.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H.” 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. D. 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. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency.” the mysteries of the holy well.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. Here. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. D. The dead are living still. / infinity portrayed in simple things. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell.” and again through it “I had the answer.” the holy presences withdraw. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. the “springs gone under the hill.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. Of course. Her poetry and her prose. here again “the words laugh.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. I would like to explore not the art of magic.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. and the Scroll.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. But then “From grotto grove and shrine.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. But my .’s lifetime of work.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. as in poetry.
Magic produces.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. the “true powers of Heaven. they will unmake all Middle Earth.” “Sir.” which might best be translated as “magic. its desire is power in this world. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). John Ransom. Viritrilbia.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. “one who by his own will once opened it. S. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power.” replies Ransom. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. R. J. seems reasonable enough in theory.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. J.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. C. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. things are not nearly so clear cut. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. C. when we turn to actual works.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. or Venus. Let us take an example. it is not an art but a technique.” says Ransom.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. or Mercury. Lewis. yes.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. as one might imagine. domination of things and wills. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. fay or mortal.” “Their naked power. Tolkien. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. Here. or pretends to produce. and so forth. saying “I have become a bridge. and Charles Williams). But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. His main character. “The Descent of the Gods. 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. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry.” But later in the same essay. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. “That is why they will work only through a man. S. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. here. it remains distinct from the other two. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. R. invokes the Oyéresu. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. R. and the descrip- .” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. R. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. an alteration in the Primary World.
full of wordplay and puns and metaphors.” “He would have known sensuously. In the beginning of the chapter. deafened. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. outspeeding light: it was Charity . whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. 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 . “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. unmitigated.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus.”80 It is not really possible. . They thought it would burn their bones. They were blinded. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. calling down the powers. and the Blue Room. sharp. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. . until his outraged senses forsook him. sticky gums . there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. sweet-scented and full of desire. They could not bear that it should end.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. here. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. They experience “needle-pointed desires. . lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale.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. were it possible. 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. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. In this chapter.” the narrator tells us. scorched.”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. bright and ruthless. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. in which none other than the ancient . . brisk merriments. where the invocation has its center. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. . They could not bear that it should continue. ready to die. ready to kill. . . or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. .
and one with Merlin and Ransom). “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. one with ordinary people. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. About Williams’s novels. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways.”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. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. “Obviously it was high time she went in. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. though one could easily imagine it so. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. In other words. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. Therefore . but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. in a “secondary world” of fiction. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping.” the seventeenth chapter. she sees that clothes are piled inside. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. of course. and the Director (Dr.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. 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. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. and by its end. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. In so doing. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. but he always maintains a link with mundane life even at the heart of the magical working itself (by way of the device of two rooms. Anne’s.
one is also encountering new realms of existence. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. 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. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. In effect they are initiations. 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. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. for instance. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. [Emphasis added. . Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. and how therefore the reader is in . we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . to find out what it was about. in general. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic.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. I have put a great deal into it. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. . 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. It was not written for its entertainment value. they reveal forms of necromancy. and her observations are revealing. 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. For that. almost cathartic effect. By doing so. [Emphasis added. On the other hand. I am afraid. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. for in the act of reading. and decidedly corrupt ones. they unveil the power of archetypes and. I wrote it. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. in fact. not find it very entertaining. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. Who and what is Lilith. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble.
like all of her . Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. putting my cards on the table. It does not matter to me what it is called. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. the side She turns away from earth. I made the astral projection by the usual method. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. 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. which is the dark side of the Moon. for it is effectual. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. that is to say. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. and I seemed to be in a strange room. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. untidy. In the novel’s seventh chapter. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. In some respects. after all.124 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E some senses a participant in that magical act. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. but Fortune was. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. badly lit and ill-tended room. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. magicians call it magic. Fortune’s novel. She gave rise to the character Lilith. appears clearly in her novels. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. and imagined myself speaking to him. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. a shabby. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. 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. The magic worked. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. not surprisingly. who is Moloch.
Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. to “enter the Unseen. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. After his entry into the Unseen.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. 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. but perhaps most interestingly. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. a fellow named Fouldes.” 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. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. one will recall. Thus Rhodes. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. . in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. As a character. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. Rhodes. The Secrets of Dr. . set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. I was no longer alone. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. I had passed over into the Unseen. at the end of the story. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). Holmes.”85 And so the book concludes. Not only were they alive. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. Marius.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. was consummately the logician. for. 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. and many others. for I was one with them . a young woman named Ursula . and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. Taverner. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. “in all things there was a profound difference. 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. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. like Taverner. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. but I shared in their life. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison.
’ ‘Yes. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. and. In That Hideous Strength. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. The girl he could do nothing for. Frost and Wither are without mercy. but also logically. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. . Then. . and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. suddenly. among them men named Frost and Wither.’ Brangwyn concluded. The strange. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. ‘That is very much that. Of the two books. ‘so that’s that. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. pure selfishness. . broke and starred like a smashed mirror. but then Murchison. . ‘Well. they were getting it in the neck. He was experienced in dealing with such things. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. banked and double-banked.’ said Brangwyn. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. and in another moment the room was empty . She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. they are without morality. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. like Astley in The Winged Bull. 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.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. and her half-brother. there are also depraved black magicians. cold and merciless. an experienced magician. a bear of a man.’ replied Murchison. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. Yet paradoxically. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). breaking the embarrassing silence.
” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. in this kind of fiction. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. Whether or not a disciple has a master. S. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. experience of magic. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course.90 . thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . or with the help of an initatory. either alone. Taverner. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. But Charles Williams and even C. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. . which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. and finally the Society 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. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. helped by appropriate texts. In all of the fiction we are considering here. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. and Fortune. 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. powers both good and evil. There is. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. . This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. Lewis. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. 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. and thanks to that. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. Williams.
Indeed. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. 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. then. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. Third. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. Williams. .” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. Such a tension corresponds. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. in literary form.” and thus to written works like novels. a mesocosm possessing its own geography.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. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. since in the fiction we have been discussing.” What conclusions can we draw. In fact. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. thoroughly real. Second. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. if we may so put it. active imagination is essential.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. Finally. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. 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. 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.
As we have already seen. an important and genuinely original British painter. there remain fundamental differences. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. Still. but with the publication of this book. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. in the sense of Rilke. Collins was a gifted aphorist. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent.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. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. and that like his contemporary poet. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. transcendent and perhaps. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. higher aspects of nature and humanity. E. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works.. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. indirectly or directly. 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. angelic realm. Thus. which is why I have chosen to study them together. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. 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. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. 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. held in London’s Tate Gallery. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. but also in Böhmean theosophy. and his writings reveal in detail his . Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. Theosophic illustrations in particular. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings.
the contemplative. denies all who have inward fruit. I remember you. of all that which desires to give. 1945. [14 January.” or again. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. and my life with you. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. But here I wander. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age.95 In 1965.” 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.” Ordinary life in the natural world. the human being. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. In “Hymn of Life. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. of his solitary walks in the countryside. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. I long for my race. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. and I know nothing. for Collins. But you exist. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. we are all exiles. 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. is imbued always with spiritual significance. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. Our time denies. to come to fruition. I know of your existence. I long for my kingdom. for he must ‘leap the gaps.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War.’ must make intellectual connections individually. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. Totnes. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. A frustration of all that which is growing. Denies the artist. A winter of the spirit is over all society. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians .
in Collins’s view. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization.] 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. but only by rapport with those worlds. . and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. It can only be known by inner nuance. .” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. and the making of money. 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. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. rapport. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. 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 “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[. For like answers to like and creates actualization . they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. by measurement or analysis.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. awaken this inner rapport in us. the meaning. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness.97 Works of art. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. by description.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. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. This is the same thing actually. . and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. The value of the artist is not to decorate.
religious. spiritu- .] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. canonical religions and ritual. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. the unveiling of the atom. the opening of man’s inner nature. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying.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[. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says.” In his final remarks. in a “time of the apocalypse. and what is more. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. trees. in Collins’s view. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead.98 The work of art. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. the elements. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. and transmuted. it becomes qualitative. in Collins’s view. the answer comes back to us from within them. We live. But there is something else that has to be opened. he writes. . we have communion with it[. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. his inner world. canonic language. of mere desires.’ In other words. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. ‘Everything that lives is holy. rocks.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. We are all apt to fall asleep. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era.” 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. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. widened. In the past. and that is the eye of the heart. we have no canonic culture of our own. . And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense.
by patterns on the limbs and torso. as in many of his visionary paintings. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. In many of his later paintings. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. but that is uplifting and paradisal. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. a union of figure. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. landscape is transformed as well.” 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. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. such as “The Invocation” (1944). In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. Many of these images have a strange. Here. 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. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. hieratic quality. To gaze at this painting is to . too. in “The Invocation. like “Angels” (1948). and the other with the light. make it bleed. the one with the sword. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. to the left the orb of the sun. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. around them a halo of golden-yellow light.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. Often. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. 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. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. the figures’ eyes are opened. an active support. not afraid to wound the heart. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). her head bent back and contemplative. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. and vibrant color. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. landscape. dreamlike.
” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. but also essays. .. Collins wrote in this book. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. and indeed. aphorisms. and poems that illuminate his paintings. But Collins offers these through visual images. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. . they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. Divine Reality. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. H. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. but central. Meditations. Poems. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. And it is also clear. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. not least because his work includes not only images. Indeed. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. he is like very few other painters.’ sacred images.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. In this respect. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. Here. he offers through his paintings.. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. by which we make contact with reality through images . and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image.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. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. D. In another book. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. chair. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. or altar. that like Milosz. a world between us and it. like an electrical transformer. so that God becomes a table. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. as in the works of Milosz and H. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. in Collins’s view. Lost paradise and . In all of these works. his drawings. D. we then have ‘sacred space.
or mere entertainment. to the conjunction of spirituality. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. and awakening gnosis. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. Thus our third point: that . for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. It is. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. of course. what we find is in fact the via negativa. Strictly speaking. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. as Dionysius himself points out. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. for instance. For in our overview of Western esotericism. and the arts in written form. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. although they may contain an element of play. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. the way of images and forms and transformations. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. these are the themes of these great artists. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. but rather. science. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. or way of affirmation. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. as a means of transmitting knowledge. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. and the via negativa. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. First. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. or way of negation. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions.
theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. between the human and natural realms. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. between humanity and the cosmos. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. history.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. But in Western esoteric traditions. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. In modern education. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. the divine. hidden.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. there is only the division between self and other. or Symbols. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. geology.’ quantifiable knowledge. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. the cosmos. Western esoteric traditions. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other.’ the divine. Rather. and the divine. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. In a modern worldview.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. and there is sheer transcendence. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. D. on the other hand. psychology. Here is the essential division between a modern. ‘third element. chemistry. plant extracts. sometimes called by Böhme the . Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. Ideas. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. And Western esoteric literature. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. sociology. and so on. works only by reference to this third element. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes.
suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. and literary expression. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. the absolute unity of subject and object. or Fullness. but nothing. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. For the purpose of such literature is. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. in order to create. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. The aim of the esoteric . Thus the artist.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. or any of the other major esoteric currents. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. alchemy. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. Rosicrucianism. a divine mathematics. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. first. and his fall from paradise. The artist. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. cosmology. and by others the Nothing. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. in this worldview. a mythologist. for all three of these poets. is in fact prophetic. by definition a ‘seer. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. an artist. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. meaning by that not absence. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. biology. This archetypal realm.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. theosophy. we find a divine art and a divine science. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. often seen as androgynous. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. Adam. In all of these traditions. and a chemist. a theologian. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. In brief. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity.
an alchemist. or a pansoph. the language of creation itself. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. Rosicrucian. 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. even from a single letter. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). In this perspective. contains some secret of wisdom. 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. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. temurah. magical. . author of The Magus. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. which is to say. almost always denoting divinity.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. and Masonic illustrations. 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. whether a Kabbalist. a theosopher. for instance. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. where it arguably sparked the entire . Hence. theosophic.’”102 Likewise. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. pansophic. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. and notarikon. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing .
Futurism. consequently. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. influenced much of modern Russian literature.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and.” or the “Book of Revelation. following the various currents through Kabbalism. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. certainly it may be the Christian . 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.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. and especially of written language and of the book. when surveying the various esoteric currents.104 Obviously. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. . For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. theosophy. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence.’ and this is not necessarily so. 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. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. 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. and Masonry. Social Realism. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature.” or the “Book of Life”. generally speaking . . it may be the “Book of Nature. magic. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather.
and in Judaism with Kabbalah. interrupted. or masters. but rather relied upon the written word. or nonexistent. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. In Hinduism or Buddhism. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. and what is more. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. 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. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. for instance. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. which indeed still finds them audiences today. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. gurus. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. and indeed even farther back. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. Indeed. 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. 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. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. Islam. much less in Christianity specifically.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. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. where the tradition . and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. and Geber. and so on back into antiquity. However. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. or in Buddhism. Even in the case of alchemy. Hermes. Given our overview. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings.
for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. initiatory. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. but who rather offered the world only written works. dreamlike language and imagery. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. naturally. hieratic. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. One thinks here. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. for in all cases. to some future initiate in a far century. Such a view of the written word is. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. I believe. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. Let us take another example. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. but . of course. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. may think of his poetry. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. whatever one . rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. are not simply decorations.’ or ‘data’. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. Milosz. of Abraham Abulafia. and in particular at its strange. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. when we look at the writing of Milosz. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. Indeed.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. who. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. In modern parlance. have been adorned with copious illustrations. Somehow. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. in addressing this far-off “son. These illustrations. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. particularly the works of Böhme. V Milosz. 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. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. Christian theosophic literature. often strikingly beautiful.’ a means of conveying ‘information. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. Such evocation is. That is to say. By contrast.
represented by a cross. In this way. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. it is more immediate and visceral. in other words. so there is no need here to repeat myself. by gazing at such an image. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader.106 To explain this phenomenon. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. and flower in the reader too. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. pansophic. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. For instance. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. theosophic. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. 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. marked also “Sophia.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. reaping. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality.” or Wisdom. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. In my view. Obviously. Such an illustration. What is more. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. Taken together. grow. tending. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. This metaphor—of sowing. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. Rather. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. through the turbulence of earthly life. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. which refers to . it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. that is. the dark-world of hell. I use the term ahistorical continuity. does have an initiatic function—that is. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. and over time those seeds can take root. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. the lightworld of paradise.
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. . Thus. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. one might even say impossible. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. leave untouched the precious Names of God . . I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. you truly will know its worth. and who have a desire to begin. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. Perhaps. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. if you wish to use this little book aright. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. Such a reader joins with the author. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. Naturally. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . After all. this function must be a change in consciousness. Here. as I am suggesting. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. the daily news. or a biology textbook. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. and are in earnest. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. instead. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. If. 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. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. for example. it can reëmerge in another.’ 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.
on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. the source from which they emerge. and so on for the entire week. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. one automatically is caught in delusion. but the “instrument of God. it walks in its own delusion.”107 Or again. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. or has knowledge-of. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. Then that thing. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. a prayer for washing and dressing. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. a prayer for the evening. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. not by merely mouthing the words. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. .108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. and become not its own possession. and experience the divine directly. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. judgemental consciousness. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. but.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. in his “Warning to the Reader. he tells us. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. a prayer for noon. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious.” If on the one hand. this objectifying delusion. which it sees as divine.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation.” “Be rightly warned. and second. a prayer for one’s daily work. and for when one rises. and a prayer before sleep. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. 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.” or objectified realm. to become a channel for the divine current. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth.
for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. although there are divisions between archetypes. There is simply awareness. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. the yes and the no. or divided from the divine. in that there remains an observer. the origin not only of language. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. there is no sense of separation between self and other. or perceiver and what is perceived. 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. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. between the divine and the natural. In other words. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. at the far limit of what we can express in language. of course. For language is in its innermost nature divine. we have the point of origin. but of the cosmos itself. or the divine eye that sees itself. There emerges a spacious or open quality. love and wrath. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. in the archetypal realm there is . Above. in Western esotericism generally. conversely. as we have seen. the self in one sense continues to exist. in other words. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed.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. the light and the dark. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. divine in its origin. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. then language must reflect this division. just as. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. where. Here we are. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. as are nature and humanity. or subject and object. Indeed. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos.
the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. The massive machine of the modern technological. or separation into self and other. transformative. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. Undoubtedly. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. consumerist state was built from a materialist. and so forth. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. which is rife with the language of objectification. and the divine. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. in modern literary theory or theories of language. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. During this . secular. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. and objectified worldview. secular. For Western esotericism. Language. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. By contrast. the divine is perforce unmentionable. in these esoteric traditions. But by the late twentieth century. 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 objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. nature. Here we are beginning to discern how Western esotericism in all of its various manifestations or guises is fundamentally different from modern views in its approach to language. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. for after all. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. 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. and the participatory. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. but never owned. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. suppression. or manifest more indirectly in literature.
even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. including elements of the sciences. and the arts. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. inner territory. in theosophic works. too. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. psychology. to name only a few. in particular. nature. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. A R T. As we have seen throughout this study. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. 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. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. at least for some. To this we now turn. L I T E R AT U R E . One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . which is to say. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. scientific or otherwise. but also for society itself. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. If so. Buddhism. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. the Lullian art. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. religion. of awakening latent. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. profound connections between humanity. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. and the divine. after all that we have surveyed. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. magic or theosophy. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. But to begin to explore this new. troubadours and chivalry.
. nature. not the life of shadows. at this juncture. The poet’s psyche. 1867–1935). and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. Western esoteric traditions have in common a special relationship with the written word that emerges from a very ancient and profound paradigm we find exemplified in works from the Book of Revelation to the alchemical Mutus Liber. but of reality. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. 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 . E. . one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. images. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. But A. as the seers tell us. To use Plato’s metaphor. rejoicings. Indeed. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. A. found throughout Western history. . Naturally. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. E. and indeed. ascends to “that high state where. A.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. joys. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. In this view. A. to turn to a poet. It may be of use. and the divine. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. a friend of Yeats. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. E. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. he simply began to murmur line after line.”111 Unconscious of creation. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. E. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. as we have seen. he tells us. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. In his book Song and Its Fountains. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. to write presupposes already having seen. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. beyond history. (George William Russell. In this esoteric view of literature.
A.”114 A far exile from that glory. E. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. E. as Ishtar in the Chaldean myth had crown and scepter and the royalty of her robes taken from her when descending from heaven to earth. even if unaware of precisely how or why. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. “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. though too often they have not kept faith . E.” he wrote. perhaps surprisingly. E. it draws nigh to its own divine root. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained.”117 For this reason. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. but all was a motion in deep being. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. analyzes the movement of consciousness. “I have. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. but of the universal spirit he understood little. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. B. A. the creation of poetry in A.”116 Still.”115 He understood something of the psyche. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. recognized his limits. and song. Yet A. and not to the sublimity of the spirit.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. from a descent after an ascent. the poet. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. looks upon the poet as a prophet. Yeats. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. gone inward into itself. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. A. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. was later translated into words. A. There was neither sight nor sound.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. E. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. E. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration.” he wrote. later discussed with W. and after that images.”113 This movement of consciousness A.” Thus. E. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words.
and they wove into drama or fiction. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. the further we come out of the animal Nature. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. E.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves.” And there is more.” The psyche. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). characters they had never met in life. when it becomes truly self-conscious. for instance. .”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. But at times they still receive the oracles. Throughout our investigations. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. In essence. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. 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. Thomas Bromley. when we seem most alone. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. and imbued with this new visionary understanding.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible .”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. And A. 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. E. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. E. .”121 These insights of A. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. the view of literary creation that A. E. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. A. may. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. In Christian theosophy. as did the sybils of old. or division into self and other. in that solitude we may meet multitude. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. they come “trailing clouds of glory. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. without knowing it. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. .
For who. there also is participation in what is observed.’s case. for instance. In the first case. and taken on a kind of life of its own. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. One experiences great bliss. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. E. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. on the other a visionary poet. In Bromley’s case. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. events. absorbed completely in a book. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. and the world is shot through with light. in A. symbols. as if by happenstance. and to one another in the Internal. which later emerge in poetry. E. say. Likewise. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. the poet is more like a receiver. like theater. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. as if we knew them as neighbors. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. One becomes what one sees. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. We are carried along on the words of the author. the author also is not directly present. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. fiction. or of Captain Ahab. or drama. and so requires our sympathetic participation. and experiences. E. Of course. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . where. Reading. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. But nonetheless. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. and between the models that they represent. which no earthly Distance can hinder.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. In this realm. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. and nearer both to Heaven.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. more powerful. a novel. in the latter case. the book or work has been separated from its writer. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. in between both author and reader. and we must. although there is still an observer and what is observed. irrespective of time or distance—and A. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. passive. at least temporarily. by A.
playing for keeps. 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. Perhaps. essays. symbolizes eternal conditions. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. By contrast. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. and one enters into the new birth. magic is real. The difference. writing. existing in a supraphysical dimension. or to have it stricken. Of course. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. For when a reader engages in a literary work. whereas the esotericist is. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. of course. Ordinary. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. . 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. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. and in Kabbalistic practice. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. for example. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. habitual self is gone. And indeed. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. between studying a work of literature or of art on the one hand and these forms of esotericism on the other is that the effects of reading a work of literature are limited: one is imaginatively engaged. the visions of the theosophers are real. in alchemical work. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. and books. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. 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. we might reverse the terms. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. presumably. one turns away from the painting. We see this in the Book of Revelation. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. our authors tell us. fiction. but eventually puts the book down. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. drama. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. and one has entered a new world.
R. Meister Eckhart. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. R. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. Ramon Lull. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. the Kabbalist. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union.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. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. their works like second nature. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. or Kabbalists—by self-election. the gnostic. but what came into existence through him. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. so too is the author. in the process of creating a fictional world. gnostics. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. the literary work. If a primary aim of the alchemist. Jacob Böhme. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. and may even connect profoundly with each other. the Kabbalist. Yet at the same time. Thomas Bromley. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. lives on. Johannes Tauler. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. But fundamental questions remain. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. Abraham Abulafia. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. Secret Societies. John Pordage. fiction. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. but there is much more to be done. Jane Leade. Nicholas . is to attain paradisal immortality. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. the alchemist. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism.
his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. the author is reaching out. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. in the . These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. 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. esoteric or not. 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. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. and indeed even God himself. and consciousness. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. “add it to his own arsenal of power. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. precedes all being.124 The Ungrund. to in Emerson’s words. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. In being. therefore. to be guided by the author. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. but in every case. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. 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). They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. literature. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. for as I have discussed elsewhere.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. moreover. taken together. Berdyaev tells us.” It may well be. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism.
Coming from a Buddhist perspective. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. 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. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. As Berdyaev points out. particularly the arts of literature. “it is an end of this world. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. a different sort of knowledge. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. of creativity.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. and its expression in human creativity. or to put it another way. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. and therefore of division. the artist.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history.” he writes. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger.” and “is the beginning of a different world. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. “Creative activity. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. It is knowledge. fictional. correlate to this? That Berdyaev is of paramount importance in contemporary philosophy I have no doubt—but his work in the end remains caught in the dilemmas that have proved so tragic for Christianity as a whole. Nishitani Keiji. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. and especially on the . the artist. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. issues from existential eternity. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. to which our categories of thought are not applicable.
in other words. This is the field of shunyata.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. it is not something we are free to do as we please . or perhaps better still. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. is beyond definition. This intensifies our narcissism. or rather in unison. . but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. The force of destiny is at work here. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved.” an “absolute openness. . self-centered consciousness. . Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. of course. self-identically. and indeed. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. the choices of the will. that is. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. Nishitani affirms.”128 True emptiness. and has the effect not of separating.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. As rational or personal beings. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . In Nishitani’s work. What . .”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . As we have seen throughout this study. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. for faced with nihility. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. and us from them. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. Nishitani. “an equality in love. what is the same thing.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. emerges authentic freedom. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. egoistic mode of being. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. or “true emptiness. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. Out of this transcendence alone. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. While this is our own act.” Authentic freedom is. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. . . or the emptiness of all things. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. one retreats into self even further.
We read and are read. including paintings. or even linguistic construction. with nature. language is indeed divine. seen as a whole. 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. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. a calling toward what we are meant to be. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. for all their diversity. . The Western esoteric traditions. It can lead us. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. so Western esotericism suggests. But in any case. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. write and are written. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. as the sense of self and other diminishes. political. Paradoxically. have at their center this mystery of the word. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. joined together with one another. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take.
Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.Notes INTRODUCTION 1.aseweb. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. For an overview of Western esotericism. in this field. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. 2. ed. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. 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. 4. See also the journal Esoterica [www. See www.msu.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. 1992). See Hanegraaff.msu. the official Web site of the ASE.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. 5.edu ] for articles. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. 3. Faivre. a Dutch scholar.esoteric..edu. 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.esoteric. 1994).org. see Antoine Faivre. including Wouter Hanegraaff. ibid. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. much of it in French. See Steven Katz. 159 . See Arthur Versluis. mostly by North American scholars. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill.
1996). “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. 10–15. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. Paragon House.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. 51–89.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. p. 10. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. 1999). 219–233. Mircea Eliade. CHAPTER ONE 1. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. 2000). 1986). Sophia. p. in Arthur Versluis. pp. eds. pp. 1974). cit. 7. See. Dreams. 76–106. 1973). 145. 3. pp. 14. 248. See Versluis. whether they know it or not. 1975). ed. 1978). but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. 18 ff. 5. John Pordage. 12. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. Peers. p. Paul. 2000). 151. 11. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. 83 ff.. Ramon Lull. Nag Hammadi Library.. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. p. See Frederick Goldin. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. pp. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St.. 13. Gnosis and Literature (St. 4. op. See Faivre. Nag Hammadi Library. 14–21. Victor Sogen Hori. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken.. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. E. (London: Sheldon. See Charbonneau. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival.. 3. See Versluis. Myths. See Gershom Scholem. 223. pp. Paul: Grail. Paul: Paragon House. 111. 309. 1863). see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. 1992). Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press.. p. 97. 6. Translation is mine. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. Paul: Grail. Jean La Fontaine. 140. 5. see also Scholem. See Arthur Versluis. 4. 2. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. 2000). 180. 1965). 37 ff. p. pp. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. pp. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 2. 307. trs. 9. 1991). 8. p. Ibid. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. . pp. p. CHAPTER TWO 1. pp. p. See ibid.
p. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.314. 11. Ibid. M. cit. p. 12. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. Ibid. 36. 18. et al. See Arthur Edward Waite. ed. Ibid. See Mark Verman. 1979). ed.205b. ed. p. eds. 32. 9. cit. I. 1986). (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1961). 51. I. Ibid. trs. See Moshe Idel. 197. Cassirer. 10. Ibid. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Scholem. IV . and Françoise Secret.. p. 1984). p. 28. 1953) I. II. ed.. Ibid. Joseph Blau. C. see also Scholem. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. 24.. 1965).B. 246. II.80 ff. See Verman. p. 26. 197. See Pico della Mirandola. Ibid. p. Origins. 34. 35. p. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. Zohar IV . Ibid.. op. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. Ibid. p. (London: Soncino. See A. see also Moshe Idel. 250.. See J. pp. pp.. 17.. I. Simon. p. See Scholem.71..C. 22.. 1779).. Gershom Scholem. p. cit... 66.. 52. 23. Doctor Illuminatus. ed. . The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. A. p. 27. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. 49–50. Dan. 394.. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. for instance. Tristan. Ibid. Origins. 13. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. I. 57. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. 101–102.205b–206a. 33. 25. 280.325. Ibid.320–323. op. p... 14. op. (Hildesheim: Olms. 298 ff. 21. Twersky. 61. II. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. p... The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press.77. 29. 16. 1969).. I. 278. p. p. 1964).75. See Verman. p. Ibid.. 8. 31. 1987). 1992). 15. II. trs. Origins. 270. Ibid. 1983). Opera omnia. Bonner. I. Vasoli.. 29..331. 7. 38. 20. Ibid. 19.351. I. 59. 1988). See. 1985). 37. Ibid. Cassirer. 30. (Princeton: Princeton University Press.76.312. 57. in The Zohar.
p. Fama. Ibid. Ibid. . 1971). Ibid..102–104. 49. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge.P. Josten. Theatre of the World. 1784). 1988). and even chart them astrologically. Ibid. for the reader’s convenience. (Cassel: Wessel. Ibid. 67. 251. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. p. Ibid. See Versluis. 53. 60. p. See. 62.... 242.D. Ibid. 1998). Ibid. 371.. 77. p. . and also written an extensive commentary on it. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. See Versluis.681. Ashmole. See Josten. See.. Fama. 49. der gantzen weiten welt . p.. p. Frances Yates. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. . H. 46. 40. Fama. Confessio. 41. ed. 44. 1972).162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. 1997). table of contents. p.M. Ashmole. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Ibid. a cosmologist. Confessio. I. 42. p. Ibid. 1999). 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis .. 1975). See also Marsha Schuchard. (Cassel: Wessel. 43. 55. 1966). see Donald Dickson. Ibid. William Huffman. p. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. M. I have translated this work of Pordage. 51. Fama. 238. 241. p. 48. p. 61. 45.. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph.O. 59. 255. Confessio. ed.. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. p. Confessio. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. p. op.. 58. University of Texas at Austin. 56.. 63. a theologian. p. Hall. D. 246. 47. p. See Versluis. 57. cit. I. p.O. Secret Societies.. II. 260. From von Welling. a musician. diss. in a group called the Round Table. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. p. for background. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. 257.M. Ibid. Freemasonry.. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates.A. forthcoming. 220. 252. 37.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. 22. 129. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations.. p. . 52. Yates. including two physicists. The Alchemy of Art. Resicrucian Enlightenment. 54. 50. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge... and others. See Frances Yates. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. 1615).A. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. 221. for text. C. Ibid. 253. The following page references are to Yates. ms.77. . p.
pp. 68.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. Revolution and Freemasonry. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. See M. op. 1992). 257–272. p. Ibid. H. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. 8. 10. 4. 162–168.” 99–134. 65. 1926). 172–173. Sloane. Ibid. Ibid. ed. see also Max Ernst. 9. pp. Freemasonry. (New York: Crossroad. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. Paul: Grail... as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. Mazet. . see Versluis.. 67. and Margaret Bailey. p. See Dickson. Franklin. 66–67. 71. On Emerson and Hermeticism. 1985). Ibid. Hugh Trevor-Roper. 6. p. Ibid. p. Religion. pp. pp. O. M. cit. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. Brown. 170–171. See James Anderson. 69. 240. 256. Milosz. . 654. (London [Philadelphia]: B. 247–249. Warlick. ed. pp. Charge I. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. 414. citing B. Faivre. 66. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. 409. 1997). p. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914).” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. S. 11. 268. V de L. pp.... 5. 417. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. E. See also Bernard Fay. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. 1997). M. 7. 191. pp. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. A. . 39. 2001). p. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. 3. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. p. changes.. 1734). the Reformation. 70. regulations . See George David Henderson. 1967). CHAPTER THREE 1. Ibid. See Edmond Mazet. p. 2. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne.. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. 110. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. 170–171. . 2002). 1992). Ibid. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. 1948). D. 1935). 1952). p. and Albert Cherél. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. p. Ibid. See also Schuchard. 253. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson.
Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne.. 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. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 1982). 2001). 16. ed. Ibid... 1994). Friedman writes that “From her [H. 38.. trs. pp. p. For a more extensive study.. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. 464. 41. 22. 24. I. pp. See W. pp.. 14. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. cit. H. is into what did she translate this inner meaning.. I. Ibid. 224–225. 34. 1996). Ibid. 32. 28. 39. 27. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. Ibid. Ibid. Milosz. Ibid. Ibid. .. 23. Ibid.. p. pp.. 455. 26. Lib. p. p. 299–300. op. 19. Ibid. 37. pp... 36. pp. Ibid.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. 31.115. 1985). 469. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. pp. Ibid. Milosz. 297–298. Ibid. 20. Ibid..’s] perspective. Ibid. p. 48–52. p. see Versluis. pp.1 ff. 40. cit. introduction by Albert Gelpi. 15. 180–181. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. cit. p. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press... p. 30. . D. pp. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . 157–206. 296. Ibid. The question. 303. Ibid. pp. For the poet of the modernist era.. D. 174–175. 1981). Ibid. 158). pp. 17. 210–211. 33. Milosz. Susan Friedman. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. pp. . Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. Ibid.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. 204–205... see Steven Bullock. op. D. 8–9. 182–183. of course. 25. op. 226–227. 29. p. 465.. p. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 21. pp. 277. Scott... 299. 178–179. 1989). Ibid. Milosz.. See Versluis. Ibid. 248. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. 35. 206–207. 300. See Versluis. 18. 13.
” 17. Ibid.. 47. 45. as well as this entire collection of articles. 1988).. 223. 1998). Ibid. 284–285. 13. p. of course. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. Ibid. See H. Futurism. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). 68.. H. 35. The Gift. 63... 57. See M.. Ibid. pp. D. Rosenthal.. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. Ibid.. 20. 18. 62. See H.” 1. 157. 21. H. 67. pp... Ibid. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. p. 50. 17–19. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. pp.. 50.. These passages were transcribed by H. Ibid. 56. 44. Ibid. 59. Kraus.. 23. 1989).. 48. Ibid. p. other authors we could consider here. Ibid. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. D. 225–246. Kathleen Raine. 60. E. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 71. p.. “The Walls Do Not Fall. 20. 1967). The Gift. Ibid.. 39. D. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. ed. D. Social Realism” in B. “Tribute to the Angels. See Jane Augustine. for documentation. “Walls.. Ibid.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42.. 55.. 1997). 67. 222. Ibid. 102. 259. D.” pp.. Ibid. 74. 43. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 154–155. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. Ibid. 66. 51. 21. 54. D. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 53. 2001). Rimius. 49. p. see also. 65. rpt. Ibid. Irina Gutkin. 69. “Notes. 29. 24. H. 32. and I certainly recommend her article. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. 72. hereafter cited as TG. Ibid. 52. 64.. 66. D. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. There are. See.” 30–31. Ibid. 9. p. 73.. p... 156–159. 50–51. 70... pp.. 168. p. 271–272. Warlick. Ibid. Ibid. p.. 70. 1. 75. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel .. 165. 46. 33. 58. 19. H. Ibid. 61.” on which see TG. 169. Ibid. p. p. ed. p..
101. 98.. 320. n. 291. Ibid. p. (London: Quaritch. 1990). cit. Ellis and W. Collins. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. Faivre. op. Lewis. p.. p. p. . Ibid.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). 3 vols. p. 115.. B. Dion Fortune. 323. 78. 1997). and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. 76. Southey. p. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. op. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. Ibid. 97. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. See for instance. 81. The Magical World of the Inklings. 1994). 21. p. 43. p. 124–125. p. 40.. Ibid.. 83. 88. 103. Ibid. 100. Vision. ed. 1814). Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. 99. 91. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. Ibid. noted hereafter as Vision. p. including Fortune’s. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. 82. 95. 94. S. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. retained his magical regalia in his office.. Faivre. 96.. 91. 239. Ibid. Dion Fortune. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. p. op. C. 88. Meditations. Ibid.. 20–21. 197.. so I have decided not to include them here. pp. p. 80. 95.).25. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins.. Fortune. Ibid. 112. 1994). 101. 90. The Secrets of Dr. Ibid. p... Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). See Antoine Faivre. Yeats. Poems. p. Gareth Knight. Ibid. 79. pp. pp. 84. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. p. pp.). 10. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. and Meditations. 154. 89. 87. p. pp. p. 382. 87. 40. Vision. Ibid. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza.. 70–71. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. 322. 93.. 77. cit. Dion Fortune. C. 82–83. S. p. hereafter noted as Meditations. Lewis. 127. 92. 102.. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. Letters from England (London: Longman. 102. See Collins.. Gareth Knight. See on this point. 1993).d. cit. Ibid. 104–104. Collins. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. 1994) p. 1988) p. 1893). 85. E.. 86. The Works of William Blake.. p. I.
1957). .1 ff. 106. “Warnung an den Leser. 94.. 117.. 1980). 110.. 130. p. Christosophia IV . p.1. Christosophia.” and I. 1958). pp. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 127.. 114. E. p. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. 39. pp. 111. 118. 275 ff.. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press... Ibid. 285.. Ibid.. pp.31. 40. Knapp. Futurism. See Versluis. 1994). II. 74... 109. 123. 103. 170. p. 129. Ibid. Ibid. 112. p. 116. Irina Gutkin. p. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). Ibid. Nishitani Keiji... Toronto: 1948). 199. 62–63. 25 ff. 105. p.D. 119. 124. Peter Erb. 120. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 194 ff. Nicholas Berdyaev. Ibid. p. 113. p.. trs. 95.. 121. 108 ff.” 108. Diss. pp. 1997) p. Rosenthal. Socialist Realism. Ibid. 126. 122. Ibid. 62. p. 1978).. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. ed. 63. p. I.29–30. Freedom and the Spirit. Ibid. 105. Ibid. Ibid.. 125. See. See also The Destiny of Man. 1991). Versluis. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. A. p. pp.” in B. Ibid.31. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. for example. p.. p. Ibid. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Ibid... Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Ibid. Ibid. 106. I added the colors. 40 and pp. p. 128. forthcoming. “Vorrede. p. 78. IV . See Charles C. 115. 93. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. 225. 71 ff. 107.
56 Art. 2. 102. 56 Bahir. William. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 24. Elias. 66 Corbin. Franz von. Sir Thomas. 141 Agrippa. 56 Amor Proximi. Thomas.E. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 138 Basilides. 96 Berdyaev. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 90. Abbot. 1 Collins. Nicholas. 97 Cremer. 46 Christ. Jacob. 137 Boethius. 10. Roger. 82 Bacon. 82–83 169 . Geoffrey. 129. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 68–71. 99 Dickinson. 1. 129–135 Comenius. 28. 27–28. 11 Dury. 140. 53. 81–82 Descartes. 28. John. 5. 94. 28–29. René. 95. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 56 Baader. Giordano. 80. 25 Ashmole. 81–82 Dee. 93. 25 Apuleius. 150 Browne. 76 Buddhism. 79 Backhouse. Tycho. 47. 22 Cordovero. 94. Emily. 81. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 97. James. 42. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 45 Chaucer.. 77 Bromley. 57. 129. 59. 61–62. 147 Buddhism. initiatory nature of. 96 Dee. 75 Chivalry. 52. 28. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 40–41. 24. William. 53 A. 35–43. 68. Moses. 63 Anderson. 59 Dante. Tibetan. 17 Blake.INDEX Abulafia. Cecil. 2 Aurea Catena. 20. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 78. John. Arthur. 5. 63. 53. 154 Book of Life. 51. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 18. 148 Barrett. 80–82 Astrology. 93. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 152 Brahe. 80 Böhme. 72 Consciousness. 14. 141–142. 4. 81 Bruno. 30. 139. 143–144. Heinrich Cornelius. 78. John. Henry. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 142. 5. ix. 154 Dogen. Abraham. 148–150 Alchemy. 55–67. 75. 89. 57 Beatrice. 31. 64. 40 Bible. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. Francis.
52–54 Kabbalah. Johann Wolfgang. Nicholas. 123. 46–52. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 112 Lull. 80–81 Fortune. 19. 97. John Scotus. 2. 21–22 Hermetica.D. Joseph Edward. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 40 . 8. 50. Abraham von. 1. 89. 4. 137 Goethe. 1 Keeble. 83. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 27–28 Gnosticism. 72–73 Faust. Edward. 56 Jerusalem. Andreas. 127 Loskiel. 56 Maier. 101–102 Frey. Edmond. 84. 99 Grail cycle. 22–24 Initiation. Book of. 139 H. 89. John. 111 Emerson. 78 Gnosis. Jewish. 5 Hori. 129 Kelley.. C. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. Michael. Albert. 101 Freemasonry. 43–45. Benjamin. 111 Esotericism [defined].S. 46. 76. 104.. 120–122. 25 Hinduism. 25 John. 63. Dion. 57–59. Carlos. 82–83 Heidegger. Susan. 120. 11 Hutton. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 77 Gelpi.. 109. 100. 44. 77 Flamel. 140 Hippolytus. Irina. 105 Eliade. 123–126. Wolfram von. 19 Faivre. 153 Homer. 76 Maistre. Margaret. 53. Jane. Victor Sogen. Samuel. 54. 112 Imagination. 126. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 100 Marcus. Gareth. 7–8. 2. Jewish. 9 Eliot. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 8–9 Larronde. 95 Hartlib. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 102 Lee. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 100 Hirst. 56. Ramon. 19–21. 75. 69 Franklin. 103–119 Hardenberg. Brian. Antoine. Ralph Waldo. 88-89. 30. 2. 35. 51 Islam. 28. Robert. 22. 56 Fludd. Joseph de. 18–21. Mircea. 9. Christian. 19. Désirée. 29 Hiram. Francis. 89–103 Hermetism. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 107. 111 Geheime Figuren. 127 Frankenberg. 103. 140 La Fontaine. 10–12. 90. 50. 65. Jean. Max. 104. Johann Georg. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 2. Rulman. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 122 Koan. 31 Melville. 36–39 Gutkin. 138 Katz. 89.S. ix. 7–8 Esotericism. 151 Merswin. 68. 102 Ernst. 29 Mazet. Meister. Martin. 102 Leade. 79–86. 105. Herman. 104 Gichtel. Steven. 106 Eschenbach. 84 Lewis. 21 Heydon. Georg Heinrich. ix. 42. 153–154 Eriugena. 103 Fuller. 82 Knight. T. Johannes. 109 Hermeticism. 5. 21. 12–15.170 INDEX Eckhart. 104. 26–31. 55 Koran. 112 Friedman.
89–103. 19. 53. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 25. 90 Porete. Rainer Marie. 29–30 Olympiadorus. Sir Walter. 103. 105. 137. 51. 66 New Age. 68. 138 Stellatus. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 84 Reading. 115. Bernadette.R. 136 Science and objectification. 21. 43 Synesius. George. 5. 110 Southey. Louis-Claude de. 14–15. 37–38 Pascal. Andrew Michael. John. 5. Samuel. René. 6 Sefer Yezirah. Milton. 99. 112–113 Morienus. 69. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 4 Reuchlin. 32. 120. 108. 75–78 Paracelsus. John. 46. Joseph. 118 Ramsay. 92. 14. 5 Minotaur. Paulus. Gillaume. 47. 40 Raine. 46. 115 Pythagoras. 114–115 Thenaud. 148 Seidel. 116 Self. 84 Pordage. 99 Pasqually. 71–76 Rousseau. 79. 63. 11 Russian literature. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. Robert. 90 Milosz. 32 Plato. 154–156 Norton. 150.V ix. Emanuel. Christian. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 90. 63 Rici. 123 Poimandres. 152 . Jean. 113. 76 Sufism. 56 Moses de Leon. Blaise. 67–69.. 73. J. 140 Tauler. Kathleen. 9. 29 Pre-Socratics. 108 Rimius. 36. 99. 103 Pyrlaeus. Gershom. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 57. 64. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 92. 26–27 Moravians.. 79. Book of. 13. 8 Rosicrucianism. Johann Christoph. 74. 52–53 Revelation. 109. 87–88. 70. Jean. 2 Postel. 87–88. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 89. Marguerite. 26 Tolkien. 69. 40 Milosz. 140 Tao te ching. 94. 119 Raleigh. 50 Schuchard. 56. 2. 112 Ripley. 18. 58 Numbers. 59. 2. Marsha Keith. 60. 56 Swedenborg. 56 Origen. 19. 141 . 92. 103. 139 Saint Martin. 152 Richter. 53 Rilke.R.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 140 Templars. Thomas. 115. 76 Parzival. 105. 8 Nishitani Keiji. Gustav. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. Gospel of. Czeslaw. 4 Shakespeare. 53 Theseus. 21 Poiret. Henry. 99 Scholem. 64 Roberts. 47–48. 99 Philip. 99 Prospero. 52 Pansophy. 18. 116 Nature [concept of]. 148 Platonic archetypes. Vladimir. 48 Mysticism. 148 Radical ecology. O. sacred. 17. 53 Theosophy. 39–40 Solovyov. 23–26. ix. Martinez de. Johannes. Pierre. 52 Piers Ploughman. 85. Johannes. William. 90 Talmud.
89. 122–123 Williamson.B. ix. Frances. Arthur. 56 . David. 104. 88. 103..172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. 53 Versluis. 67–69 Upanishads. 148 Zosimos. 86 Welling. Charles. 156 Zinzendorf. 116 Yates. 103.E. 55. 10. 9. 48. Adam. Georg von. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 10. ix. 106 Washington. 111 Warlick. M. 63. 10. George.. 120. 35–43 Ungrund. 101 Weishaupt. 84 Williams. 75 Yeats. 148 Zen Buddhism. 31 Viterbo. Nicholas. 103. 82 Troubadours. 64. W. Egidio Cardinal. 112–113 Zohar. 79 Willermoz. Hugh. 111. 2. 110. 140 Valentinus. 137. Jean-Baptiste.
Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. along with its companion book. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.msu.esoteric. (Graz: Akademische. Imagination. 1992). 2000). 2001). I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . 1975). 1998). Earlier. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. 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. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1992). 1956). (Leuven: Peeters. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. eds.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. 1994). 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. Theosophy.aseweb. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff.org. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. Gnoses. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff.. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 2 vols.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. 1998). 1998).
enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. . Gnosis and Literature (St. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Paul: Grail. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. 2000).174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. 1996). 1994). edited by Brian Keeble. 1999). 2001). Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. Paul: Grail. 1996). and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Paul: Paragon House. 2002). Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press.