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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s .Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. Art. Literature.
Occultism in art. p. Albany. NY 12207 Production. magnetic tape. BF1411. photocopying. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . Series. 90 State Street. Anne M. 3. Authur. Suite 700. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. mechanical. cm. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. Title. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. electrostatic. literature. Occultism in literature.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. 2. 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. art. For information. I. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. II. address State University of New York Press. paper) 1. Occultism—History. Laurie Searl Marketing. recording.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 . Pansophic. Rosicrucian.
and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 . Art.viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature.
O. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. but the work’s focus remains Western. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. ix . literature. V. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. H. At the very least. and consciousness itself. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. but in keeping with my original impetus.. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. Lewis. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history.P re f a c e Restoring Paradise began as an introduction to the literary and religious history of Western esotericism and was meant for a general audience. I include a short annotated bibliography to suggest further study for those interested in the fields that I here introduce in the course of making my case about literature and art as means of esoteric transmission in the West. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. and Cecil Collins. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. traditions. art. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. Hence. At the suggestion of an early reader. S. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. figures. In writing this book. C. Milosz. but as the book took shape. D. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources.
D. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 1985). (Ipswich: Golgonooza. from Trilogy. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. V. xi . each of whom helped to make it a better work. Poems. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Milosz. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. and to Studies in Spirituality. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. 1997). “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works.. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. de L. including the adapted cover illustration.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. from Trilogy.D. and to the editors of Gnostica 3.). 1994) and Meditations.).D. 2001). Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared.
but also. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. are now appearing. the study of mysticism. and otherwise. Yet for this to take place. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. literary. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. figures.I n t ro d u c t i o n : I n i t i a t o r y Tr a n s m i s s i o n and the Imagination We find ourselves today at the edge of new vistas in scholarship. and metaphysical or transcendent. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. artistic. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. and one that has ramifications in many directions. These are not. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. and perhaps even more critically. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992).3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. In this book. religious. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. however. mutually 1 .1 Here. or conveying spiritual experiences. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. provoking. even apophatic mysticism. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos.
To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. magic. philosophical. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. however disparate. including alchemy. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. or gnosis. that is what this book is about. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. and social histories. this must be our primary focus. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. of course. or convey spiritual awakening. Rosicrucianism. do have certain characteristics in common. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. or Hermeticism. provoke. Jewish Kabbalah. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. magic. But the time for such biases is past. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. theosophy. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. . but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. Like the koan. astrology.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. Not at all. In particular. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. Undoubtedly. Yet these traditions. Here. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. mysticism. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. left out of literary. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. and about how we come to know. examples of it include alchemy.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. In essence. Christian theosophy. above all this is a book about knowing. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. religious. Freemasonry. however. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. Christian gnosis. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. 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. Rather. astrology.
we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. a vast field. when a panoply of religions. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. and there are many treasures to be found there. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. and to alternative forms of spirituality. proliferating wildly. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. sects. And underlying these is. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. nature. when we look at Western societies. what their predecessors are. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. To navigate one’s way through these movements. about reading the stars. of course. and to understand their patterns and meaning. Thus. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. we find on the social front. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. In many respects. 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. therefore. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. By looking more closely at the origin. For as we will see. the Western esoteric traditions. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. which is often seen either as outdated. our time resembles the early Christian era. and cults existed side by side. in my view. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. Western esotericism is. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. despite their often almost bewildering variety. At the same time on the religious front. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. .
reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. refers to spiritual knowledge. but can be transmuted.’ that is. or spiritual knowledge. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. of course. so too there are great readers. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. in other words. 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.’ Unexamined here. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. but with consciousness itself. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. when we read the works of an Emerson. If there are great writers. and heaven. Greek in origin. we have developed machines that ‘read. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. however. we feel as someone else feels. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. By contrast. also about union. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. What is more. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. When we read a novel. reading here guides one toward gnosis. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. purgatory. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. imaginatively enter into different lives.’ itself a metaphor for our time. and each requires the other. The word gnosis. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. And when we read a great poem. The mystery of reading is. why do we travel with . In every experience of literature. is much deeper than it might at first appear. and will require much elaboration. we enter into another’s world. minerals and stars. 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. and ultimately with the divine. Likewise.
and when we read them. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness.” I am extending the word beyond its usual implication: the canonical (or noncanonical) series of more or less conventional authors from Homer to Dante and Chaucer to Milton. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. and essays. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now .INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. fiction. we understand. and where we are going. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. drama. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. where we are from. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. not about accumulating more information. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. We make connections. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. What is more. 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. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. like so many others. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. Rather. 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. 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. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism.
living divorced from humanity. and particularly literature. as if catalogic. quantitative. people most of all.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. or manipulation. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. By contrast. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. most notably Western esoteric traditions. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. In this respect. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. everything. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. indeed. grounded in spirituality. finally. one based not on division but on union. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. but also the even more primal act of knowing. 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. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. but for connection and union. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. nature. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. and the divine. Those studying the humanities. 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. the way we see the world. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. it suffuses our language. from which we believe that we are separate. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. 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. including people. and everything becomes a matter of techné. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so.
W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. And in North America as well. But the fact remains that there are also figures. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. In Western Europe. however. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. and so to maintain clarity. And indeed.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. so too that choice still exists today. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. 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. 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. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. works. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. and consciousness.6 Subsequently. and so forth. and groups in Western European and North American history. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. . alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. 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. Indeed. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. crystals. The reader. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. literature. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. alone with an author.
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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-
we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. . there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. 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. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. but into conventional consciousness . Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. but this is by no means to say that therefore there is no such thing as nonconceptual or transcendent knowledge unmediated by language or image. through language and image. I believe.”11 This is. in his Shobogenzo. At one time. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in .” Victor Sogen Hori argues that it is mistaken to hold that koans are a means for ascending out of thought and language into a state of pure consciousness. . If kensho is the realization of nonduality. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. however. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. then it is a breakthrough not out of. 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. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. not beyond it. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). From this viewpoint.
This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. What makes Western esotericism different above all. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. 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. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. for that matter. as in individual daydreams. By . and thus also to the individual. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. Like the koan. as means of initiation. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or.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. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. This is not to say that the West had or. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. Rather. is there a third interpretation that lies somewhere between these two? Such questions are important because the imaginative faculty is so vital to creating and to understanding literary and artistic works. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. I believe. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. as I will propose here. But in fact we know from our own experience as readers that literature is a means by which we participate in an intermediate world or mesocosm created by an author. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. I am arguing that in the West. frustrating though this may be. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. Rather. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. 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.
literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. it is not for a general readership. literary or otherwise. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. This work is circumscribed. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. 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. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice.12 As a result. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. the images.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. For instance. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. Obviously. the action by the act of reading or viewing. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. it is for the few. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. For example. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. Imagination.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. in other words. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. guide. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part.
We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. Sympathetic readers. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. but here a new magical earth is brought . thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. and this too presents problems. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. to understand them. Initiates. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. This is a pervasive problem today because literary theoretical conventions tend to be hostile toward the very imaginative sympathy without which the reader is divorced from the work and cannot enter it but can only analyze it from without. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. Yet if we answer “yes. in other words. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. which is what I am proposing here. and nothing less. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. graspable solution to a koan. 2. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. and 3. who enter into a work imaginatively. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. But there is a third perspective. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. not one’s own. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own.” The gnostic.’ only that one has to make the effort to understand an esoteric work as much as possible sympathetically from an imaginative entry into its realm. 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.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. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. 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.
The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. The realm of the imagination. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. What is more. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. then. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. . in sum. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. 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. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. This. to the divine power within that creates. is by its very nature one of co-creation. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. 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. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. In other words. 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 resides in a continuum between the two. 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.
we are not so concerned with surveying the entirety of this period—a monumental task best left to others— but with the defining themes that will emerge again and again in later times. the Book of Revelation. however. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. And to find these themes. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. we must begin in antiquity. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. This. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. death. and resurrection. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. From relatively early on. is profoundly different. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. needless to say. Here. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. what we may call a 17 . and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. and. The other kind of writing. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. specifically at the beginning of Christianity.
we can see how anomalous it is. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. The gnostics. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. of course. Of course. or technological. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. as throughout world religious traditions. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. By contrast. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. legal. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. or historical. revelatory emphasis. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. Consider.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. on the other hand. symbolic. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. In Christianity. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. 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. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. and on the other. should it be ahistorical. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. . be characterized according to people’s approach to language. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. the development of Buddhism. an ahistorical. literal. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. be it scientific. multilayered approaches. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. that one can easily list them. and indeed. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. so rare—in fact. and mythic. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. the Word was not literal but spiritual. for instance. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events.
Who was rejected as heretical. but of communication. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. and communion. 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. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. however much their literalist opponents think differently. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. true pronunciation. but such an approach is not for everyone. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. the seeds of all things. who are worthy of it. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. For instance. chiefly vowels.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. and who else was accepted as orthodox. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. here it is vertical. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. and spiritual illumination. Likewise. that is. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. just . In general.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. asceticism. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. one is in touch with inconceivable power. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language.
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. such images represent divine aspects. through images. The letters. but if the letters were properly restored. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. basilisks. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. then. Letters and numbers. are a means to creation’s redemption. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. 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. All of this is to suggest that there was in antiquity in Jewish and Christian esoteric circles a very widespread gnosis of language which was grounded in writing. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. paradoxically conveyed often through . and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. and macrocosmically. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. and so forth. and so forth.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. thereby making this conflict inevitable. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. one finds that from the very beginning of our era the very same elements conduce also to a wide spectrum of gnoses and hence to angelic polytheism and to nontheistic gnosis in which the very concept of God is transcended.20 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E as Greek Christian mysticism drew upon Hebrew or Aramaic terms. as principles of creation itself. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. and contain within them the seeds of the perennial struggle in all three forms of monotheism between those who take the word literally and those who advocate gnosis. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. which undoubtedly drew upon and incorporated elements of the Greek mystery traditions even as they differed from the Greeks in their emphasis upon writing down the mysteries and then writing down commentaries upon the previous writings. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. so the letters were altered. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. inconceivable power would be set loose. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. as does the creation of images. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor.
and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. but share elements in common with all three. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. There is no one author of the Hermetica. “there is communion between soul and soul.22b) . out of which emerges a “holy Word. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. of the mysteries tradition.25). This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere.” the “voice of the Light.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. is self-evident. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. tells him.” From the very beginning. in the first centuries of this era. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. 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. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. number. which were also about death and resurrection. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism.” the being. Poimandres.” (X. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. “for I am with you everywhere. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. in symbols and myths.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. presented in the form of dialogues. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. letter. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. “I know what you wish. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. In at least some respects.” but not like an ordinary sleep.
However. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. Like Hermes himself. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. they certainly intermingled. Platonism. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. then. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. but this revelatory quality differs markedly from what we see in Plato and bears far more in common with what we find in some Gnostic treatises of revelation. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. For from what we have said. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place.” “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. or direct knowledge of the divine. always there is a fluid. the mystery traditions. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. and there is a witness to the revelation. traditions. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. and . Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. Christian esotericism. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. Indeed. and Hermetism. mercurial quality to it. what we find is something quite different. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. 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. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. yet not strictly philosophical either. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. It is. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer.
quite well known. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. However. beginning with the Revelation to John. and in the tenth chapter. of course. an elder tells him to weep not. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. came the following: “After this I looked. Although the vision has a beginning. in the fourth chapter. and behold.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. And immediately I was in the spirit. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. a little book sweet as honey. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. and behold. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . Above all. in other words. a throne was set in heaven. and the auditory part of the vision began. or field of the imagination. and does eat. Yet interestingly. John. . there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. and one sat on the throne. when he eats the book. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. At one point. Rather. but take place in their own time. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. he sees the twenty-four elders. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. saw and heard these things. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. and only then. There are. and he interacts with them. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. off the Greek coast. and future are visible. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. a door was opened in heaven. he is told to eat. Then. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. mythology. apparently visionary time.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. turned. I believe that literature. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. and where the earthly past. questions. . where John meets. once introduced to this sequence. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. a mesocosm. present. when he weeps.
in other words. John is united with its knowledge. Christian Gnosticism. of course. John is given a little book to eat. and are in a sense initiates. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. The Revelation. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. the very book that we are reading. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. found in Judaism. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading.” during these the end times. And then there is. becoming symbolically charged. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. a gnostic encounter with elders. Taken together.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. 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).24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. 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. and Hermetism. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. Additionally. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. all remind us of the prior traditions. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality.12). But for our purposes. In the tenth chapter. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. and one hundred forty-fours. the way we see the cosmos itself changes.13). but sweet as honey on his lips. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. there are “other books. twelves. we will recall. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. the Book of Revelation of St. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. and finds it bitter in his belly. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. which he does. angels. and by eating the book. Every aspect of life is altered. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. One. of course. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book.9). and although the word eidolon early in the modern era .
hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. and what is heard. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. and what is seen. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. at the mystical tradition. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. a hearer. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. seen by a seer. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. words. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. including the two books of Enoch. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. all of which belong to the apocrypha. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. and of James and of Adam. Of course. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. Rather. where an encounter may take place. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. 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 . When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. 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. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. the Revelation does not stand alone. Yet because it became canonical. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. splendid earthly form: but again. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. at the Kabbalistic tradition. At the same time. it is an image. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. the Ascension of Isaiah. profoundly symbolic numbers.
26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. ranging from external to internal. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. The analogy of electricity. In other words. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. we are drawn toward it. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. objectifying it. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. more electric. and exists more for entertainment. And though we risk being burned. of being charged. a constellation of letters and numbers. for although the Revelation is the most well known. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. without relevance to oneself. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. it is certainly not the only one. or from exoteric to esoteric. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. Esoteric literature. to make it one’s own. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. how hieroeidetic a work is. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. or one may enter into it—just as there is a range of approaches to such a work—so too there is a range of such works. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. far more than may at first appear. often in a simple story. So it is with the story of Theseus. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. 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. to the transcendent. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. or put better. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading.’ of participation. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. as wild as the book of Revelation.
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
This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. and its light “never sets. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. As we ‘read’ these images. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. sacred images. the first of which had four letters. For instance. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. we participate in what they represent. there is earthly marriage. This name was composed of four syllables. 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. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. in dreams. in the Gospel of Philip. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. although we refer to them by the same names. and reveal transcendence. and numbers emerge in. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. 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. words. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. which is of a totally different order. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. but different aspects of the same way. not opposite or even complementary ways.”3 In other words. 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. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. or aeon. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. VI. or one will . and in religious experiences. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. we find plays on naming and namelessness. and the entire name had thirty letters. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. we become intimate with them. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. Indeed.xxxvi). embody.
not to arbitrary designations. 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. 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. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. characteristic ways of understanding. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. not hidden in the darkness and the night. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. The world has become the aeon. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent.”4 In other words. when one dies. but is free in life and in death. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. for the aeon is fullness for him. indeed. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. gnostic paradigms. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. for such a one the world is transparent. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. The cosmos is no longer opaque. elusive. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. but its inseparable companion. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. divided consciousness. evokes. 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. 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. but rather. Rather. The nameless and the named are not divided. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. is. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. .ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. the unnameable. Here naming refers. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities.
so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. Here. and are visible in major European literary works. and therein we obtain the pure key. a third characteristic. in his own degree. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. They are only the sensible expression. of the different properties of beings.”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. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. to which I have already devoted some study. . nor wholly from without.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. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. whether visible or intellectual.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). on which conventional mathematics is founded. According to rational consciousness. everyone. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. without masters. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. On the lowest level. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. including Piers Ploughman. More intimately. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. By contrast. Out of the gnoses of numbers. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. Even more intimately yet. letters. my dear brother. What is more. however. . Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. A fourth characteristic is imagery. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. woven together into a . a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. separated from the subject who sees. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. which all proceed from the one only essence . of course. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. which is the mystery of words and of the book.
and images. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. Christian. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. Greek. taken together. numbers. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. . We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. often do not hold at all. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. Its mysteries of names. words. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. By following the courses of Western esotericism. Egyptian. but also to convey it. to become it. letters. images. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. Roman. Thus we can see the outlines of the mysteries of the word and the book that in turn give rise to the Western esoteric traditions. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. whether. words. in one form or another. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. 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.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. from antiquity to the present. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. and traditions best express his understanding. Jewish and Christian and Greek. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity.
a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. sees her (or him. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. 35 . in giving honor to his beloved. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. 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. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic.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. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. The troubadour. 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. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. of course. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions.
as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. never explicitly discussing. or love’s faithful. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. Of course. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words.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. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. . One such group was the fedeli d’amore. particularly the chivalric tradition. that is to say. likewise. But when we look at these movements as a whole. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. Instead. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. Much more likely that here. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. 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. even surreptitious. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. is no. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. for example. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler.E. I think. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles.
upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. and has a rich reward in heaven. For. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. then the chivalric life is his one desire. and this is the mystery of names. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. but God may have taken them back. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. . for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. He found that a man named Flegetanis. For instance. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. both pagan and Christian. but there is another source. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. worthy. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation.” 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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. Naturally. for the name disappears. whence had come the Grail. there is no need to erase it. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. In any event. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. occupying a middle ground between these. noble angels. and to whom God sends his angel. Hearing this. we are told. 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. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. teacher of Eschenbach. a hermit. those who did not take sides. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. that is. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick.
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. remains this-worldly in emphasis. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. For instance. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. and at the end of the tale. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. When inevitably she does so. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. He was to ask. entertaining. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. and that is the exalted position of women.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. Rather. we will recall.” chiefly Saturn. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. Parzival. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale.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. then naming them one by one in Arabic. The Grail.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. then their sorrows would end. And at the book’s conclusion. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. just as is Western esotericism more generally. but also with the changing of the moon. and that of all the Grail servers. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. Yet this implicit esotericism. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. the spotted knight. of course. Throughout the tale. like chivalric literature more generally. the knight is told by Feirifiz. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. of course. we are told to honor women. Saturn to suffering. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. in particular. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. and if he asked a Question. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- .
This famous passage. Once again. the number of maidens serving the Grail. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. of course. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. When Gawain. like several others in the poem. with the five wounds of Christ. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center.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. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. part of a tradition that. 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. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. these being liberality. continence. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. and. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. as I have elsewhere shown. the poem. he ultimately feels shamed. the five virtues. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. Gawain’s symbol. and piety.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.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. but with the five fingers. is marked with a tiny colored initial. First. Yet in the story’s conclusion. courtesy. in Gawain as in Parzival. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. like Grail tales more generally. At the end of Gawain. the first is the true knot. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. in the image of the pentangle. marking why Gawain is a fine man. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. loving kindness. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. And this green marks my second point of observation.
Or again. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. Gawain.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387).40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. not monastic or priestly.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning.”] Or again. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation.” or “the Green Isle. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. and renewal.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. / And since talking directly can’t help us. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . green is the color of nature. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. to be renewed. pus nons val arditz. growth. yet at the same time. although a lay group.” The Friends of God were. the hidden divine messenger. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. and the illicit. One does find esoteric themes. like the chivalric orders. perhaps cunning can. This same duality inheres in the color green. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. yet it is also the symbol of new life. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs.
Dante sees Beatrice again. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. in the ninth hour of the day. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. Boethius. like the great Divine Comedy. La Vita Nuova. full of images. as in the Divine Comedy. as does the play that we see here on naming. and here. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. poems.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. thrice-blessed Lady. of course. we end by passing beyond space. Thus Dante’s greatest works. and exactly nine years later. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. And of course. This is. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. calls upon the “book of memory. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. philosophical. of course. In De consolatione. an intervening figure in the tradition. and words and ideas into the empyrean. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. with a final vision about which he will not now write. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. and his commentary. 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. time.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. but the faculty of imaginal perception. There is. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. 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. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. this time wearing a white dress. Dante ends this strange work.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. albeit more literary. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. who lived during the fifth century. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. is a visionary poem.
Earthy. however.” “gastly for to see.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. Chaucer. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. the theater of art. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. But all the same. known as a primary literary figure in English history.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. knarry. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. yet he went further. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. marked east and west by gates of marble.” with “festes. 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. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. here. and of divine service. above all. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. with an oratory. Here. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. especially of the knight for his lady. Chaucer was not an esotericist. Like Dante.” Thus this tale. bareyne trees olde. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. We see in Chaucer’s tale. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. caroles. instrumentz. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. daunces” around her. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale.” In that “portreiture. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. And these are evoked .” and by “kervere of ymages. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316).” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. 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.
in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. At this juncture. (part of his romance Blanquerna). Ars brevis. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. one for each of the 365 days of the year. Lull. and Ars generalis ultima. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. until he was thirty. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion.” are familiar to students of . But what in Chaucer are only allusions. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. like Chaucer. we are given the meditations of the hermit. but with the advent of rationalism. “knowledge” and “remembrance. In fact. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. bringing together the chivalric. given its astonishing scope. and of course his most well-known and influential works. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. The Book of Contemplation. and indeed. troubadour. Not surprisingly. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. For although Lull. 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. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. In the ninety-ninth chapter. and this is no accident. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. 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. literature is not only entertainment. The lover answered. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated.” The Art represents. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. not just a set of correspondences. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. These terms.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). (a kind of chivalric code). was prolific.
’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. and by writings. but of those done with the wrong attitude. not of figures. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. that is. images. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. whose influence extended across Europe. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. all errors are implanted in the world. 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. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. images. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. just as the writer is in his book. invoking evil spirits as good angels. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. north and south. we are also participating in this relationship. and images.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. since my Beloved contains all. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. Lull used more letters.’”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. Here we find a clear condemnation. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. but for purposes of clarity. The cosmos represents the divine writing. and that is the book. ‘Yes. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. However. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. And through presumption. Originally. By means of these letters. rather than my Beloved in the world. and writings. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. Of course. most of all in the exposition of his art. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. This extraordinary art. as the readers of Lull’s book. west. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. Further. and writings in themselves. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. investing them with the names of God and of good angels.’ They asked him. out of arrogance or presumption.” In this falsified knowledge. and profaning holy things with figures. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. he condensed his art into nine letters. by seeing the Sign of God in the east.
depending upon how the letters are combined. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. When we consider the prominence of the letter A in numerous esoteric traditions ranging all the way from Buddhist tantrism to Gnosticism to Böhmean Christian theosophy. and numerous other arrangements. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. and so forth. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. Lull himself combined them using circles. Hence in many respects. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. For this reason. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. what?. Of course his work is unique. angel. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. . it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. and gluttony. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. it includes and transcends logic. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. and avarice. difference. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. I— Veritas. In the full art. 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. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. tables. concordance. God. E—Potestas. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. for instance. emerging as it did largely in a Spanish ambience perfectly suited to the meeting not only of the primary currents of medieval Christian esotericism—including the chivalric and troubadour—but also of Islamic and Jewish esotericism. found in the Ars compendiosa. prudence. B signifies. or that from the Ars brevis.” C signifies “greatness. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. “goodness. triangles. justice. 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. The Lullian art. has vast implications. For instance. for example. whether?. B—Bonitas. trees. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. At the same time. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life.
so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. but what is more. however. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger.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. the words. troubadour. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. and Freemasonry. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. of course. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. And as literature. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. but this is virtually never the case. 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. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. It is. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. In these traditions. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. Rather. . with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). French. or English gnostic. the chivalric. 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. Rosicrucianism. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery.or eighteenth-century German. intricately woven. 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. Christian.
But the Bahir. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C.9 Yet at the same time. and Kabbalism more generally. but also in that they consciously sought to keep this tradition hidden from the general public even while composing copious works that derive from the long tradition of interconnections between literature and religion. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. Castile. number. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. The book Bahir.8 But for our purposes. and cosmogony.E. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. and elsewhere in Europe. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. “The affinity with the language. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. and thus Kabbalism. dating to the Talmudic period. disclosing them only in parabolic language. And in fact. 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. For instance.” Scholem concludes. . not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. for instance. also may have roots elsewhere. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. terminology. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. or ten dimensions of the cosmos.
informing the cultural. spiritual. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. the tonal accents. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. For example. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. 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. caught up in the spirit. and natural realms at once. 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. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. as a female is fertilized from the male. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. but another view.11 Of course.” Indeed. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. said to symbolize the abdomen. In section 124. But in any event. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. writing the Names of God) and through this power.” (that is.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. which comprise a total of 613 letters.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. supported by some contemporary testimony. including the human body. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. for example. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. 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. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination.
’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. so to say. whispering.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. the essence of everything.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. the tenth letter. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. but My Face will not be seen. made transparent so .” which may or may not itself be an “a. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One.”14 In other words. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. Through this kind of multiplication. For instance.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. not even Moses. an ¯ “ether. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. yet when these Names are removed. inquiry . Here. 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. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life. in this context.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. . one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. out of it emerges the Names. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. we are told. corresponding to yod. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. voice. all are found in this Name. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt.”17 By investigation. and 160. eighty. . is allowed to ask questions.” One can easily see. and yod in turn becomes twenty.” about which no one.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. . the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. all comprehension and thought. . forty. 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 prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. from reading this extraordinary work. speech.”18 This. in the Fountain of Wisdom.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. or aleph. action .” 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. utterance. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare.
that of hardened or congealed materiality. broadly speaking. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. but from the other. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. sometimes without. not from this side. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. then. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists.20 For that matter. emerges. but also metaphysical.50 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E that through them in the eye of imagination we can see the hidden principles and working of the cosmos itself. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. as Scholem remarks.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. Indeed.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. 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. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. 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. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. Medieval Kabbalism.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. All of these exist. is not only cosmological. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. ’En sof literally means “infinity. including thought. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here.
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
literature represents portals into the transcendent. Such an approach to literature. that is. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. In the eighteenth century. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. ramified throughout religious and literary history. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. after all. . In the twentieth century. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. and beauty. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. much less the possibility of transcendence. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. which is. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. Here. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. To such approaches. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. For Kabbalah. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. where one finds literature and religion fused. surface is nothing and depth is everything. or vice versa. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions.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. or vice versa. however unfamiliar to us today. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. Spain. Indeed. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. But before discussing these implications. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. intricacy. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. And when we look at Kabbalism. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. that ultimately all beings will be saved. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent.
itself also highly literary: the koan.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. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. To the first-time observer. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. as the “art of Hermes. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. not entirely ‘pagan. forces one to wrestle with it alone. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. . but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. as we saw earlier. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. hence on the one hand religious. alchemy. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. like the alchemical expression or riddle. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. When we look at European alchemical works. we cannot help but notice religious references. So too. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. Of course. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. on the other transmitted by way of literature. to work it through. Indeed. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place.’ yet not entirely Christian.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. However.
Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. the vegetable. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working.E. Indeed. 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. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. or the animal kingdom. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. Olympiodoros. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. . either. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). George Ripley (fifteenth century). although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. at heart. 825–932 C.E. plant. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. be they in the mineral. and the spiritualizing of the body. that is. Thus. One places oneself in the line of what is. 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. Synesius. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. All of these authors did write on alchemy. After all. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. the embodying of spirit. Roger Bacon. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. even if its work resembles these in some respects. and takes place by way of fire. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission.—latinized as Rhazes). and Morienus of the seventh century C. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century).. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. as has historical placement. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. in the revelation of paradise. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness.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. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth.E. alchemical literature.. or al-Rhazi (ca. thirteenth century). For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. Ramon Lull. put another way. even if it does not entirely belong to these. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. For alchemy extends into many realms. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. a tradition transmitted through literature. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr.
it is enough. composer.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. . as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. “The Golden Tripod. and gave it to us by mighty toil. and are to come. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works.” that is. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). which Vulcan cast into the sea. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. If thou knowest the substance and the method. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored.” In other words. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. of course. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. Indeed. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. Thomas Norton. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. were.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. . and thou knowest all. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. and author Michael Maier. Maier. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. physician. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. bracketed by mythological references. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. . in his preface.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. Here. seek not many utensils for thy labor.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. His title. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer.
”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth.” With its spiritual essence. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. despite its elliptical means of expression. . “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. Shortly thereafter. that which is visible. Here you see the perfection of our Art. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. while around him are various figures.” pleads the case of her husband. while the Moon. as well as an angel blowing a horn. a king and a queen. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. over a fire. in the background a dead tree stump. and this Mars has done. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. being bereft of images . a half-naked man with a scythe. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. to be invisible.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. and that which is palpable. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. . as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. to become impalpable . is at once literary and practical. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. and to the queen’s left. before him a burning barrel. the Sun. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. the king bearing a staff. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. and proved of the greatest efficacy. and a man sowing seeds. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. and it is clear from what Valentinus himself writes that he devoted himself intensely to “the study of the powers and virtues which God has laid into metals and minerals: and the more I searched the more I found. the queen a three-flowered plant.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. including two archers shooting at targets. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. on the far left side a single candle. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all.
and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. a man named Herbert. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. of course. Such. two of orange arsenic. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. and so was let go. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. 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. his last testament. and prepared in about four days. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. Cremer in this.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. two of living sulphur. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. In recent times. and two of willow charcoal. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. of . Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. and tortured for four years. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence.”35 And indeed. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. so as not to lose legibility over time. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. three of rabusenum. strong and pure. we are told. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. Dalton said he was happy to die. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. 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.
just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. We may ‘read. fire. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. not all evestra are benefic. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. ethereal counterparts. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. literary allusions. to carry it within. Through these evestra. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. not only by looking at words on a page. And of course. According to Paracelsus.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. but is joined with them in the imagination. one may know the inner nature of anything. To say. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. for they occupy different dimensions within it. But in any event. allegories. Paracelsus tells us. vegetable. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. one branch of alchemy. 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. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . poems. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. Spagyric medicine. Imagination governs the development of things. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. its subtle essence. and animal realms. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. epigrams. air. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. Of course. not merely from the outside and as other. then. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature.’ then. water. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. but also through the power of the imagination. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. Confronted with such a colloquy.” consisting in the imaginative landscape.
it is entirely real. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. emphasize their recipe quality. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. may be interpreted in both ways at once. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ.” and to a host of Biblical references. like Cremer’s testament. 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. while others. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. . sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. light air. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. . a matter of . but here are clearly spiritualized. The terms used in its title—oil. and so forth. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. these two poles became further separated. At this juncture we should recognize that alchemical literature can be interpreted along a spectrum ranging from a focus on its spiritual meaning to a focus on its physical interpretation. the true medicine and theology. and mist. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace.74). This is the true Ground of Nature . But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. indeed. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. .”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. but that in this particular worldview. like Valentinus’s. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. wine. more real than what we see in the physical. Genesis 1:27. . and this is characteristic of the work as whole. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. fire.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. It is as though here alchemy. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. including Romans 1. II Chronicles 13:5. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. as a spirit. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. 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. philosophy. Of course.
in harmony” (II. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy.83). and a true Medicus. and when either one is absent. In fact.83). just as we find for instance Islamic . we are told.105). for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. Fire. Water. like Hermeticism. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. inward dimension. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity.80). The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. easily translates into a dominant religion. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. Oil. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. And so we find the three One. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. . . but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. these terms have an alchemical provenance. the author writes “That the earth is dark. for instance. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. 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. but here.77).62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. However. of existence. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. is a perspective that is all depth. and one three . Oil. Salt. as a kind of counterpoint. nor whence they emerge (II. or Water is. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. spiritual dimensions of the work. that is the mystery wherein all lies. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. Thus. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. but the Sun light. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. a true Astrologus.93). the depths. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature.
practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. not merely a pastiche. The implication. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. 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. on mercury. from spiritual to physical. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. of course.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. Christian theosophy. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. and he and his spiritual circle. Kabbalah. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). Pordage’s work.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. astrological. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). 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. and Kabbalistic themes. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. This is not . it may be useful to concentrate on another work. But such rumors aside. on salt. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. and of the third. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). Indeed. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. including “Chymie” or alchemy. beginning with the organization of the first section. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. 1675). Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. and gnostic metaphysics. of the second. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. on sulfur. astrology. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
and “Manna Coeleste. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). then in a Liquorem . and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722).” and so forth. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . in other words. diagrams. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. 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. charts. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. with a plethora of astrological symbols. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. .” “Thronen. . and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. sulfur. or mercury. . “Alchimische Fragen.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. and instructions. Here. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. meaning the transcendent Godhead.” “Cherubim. but might well also be called pansophic. . diagrams. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. and calcify it by hand. including D. For instance. to properly prepare mercury. of Pisa.” Further. Christian scripture. das himmlische Manna genannt. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. 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. Indeed. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. At the same time. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. tables. and in this regard he succeeded. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation.64 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E to say that all of his sources were entirely accurate—for instance. he elided many details. 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 .
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. as well as with what these represent.’ in the broadest possible sense. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. Thus we may well say that. Alchemy. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. Here. alchemy is like learning to use a language. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. however far-reaching. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. broadly seen. or grammars. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. a natural homology between alchemy and art.’ There is. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. is a relatively modern phenomenon. we can easily see. and images. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. like a painting. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. and to ‘write. air. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. both seek to perfect this creativity. In some respects. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. recipes. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. but also in the microcosm of the artist. In this sense. and that we will shortly examine further. animal. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. of course. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. fire.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. One must learn both to ‘read. Alchemy. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . of course. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. for example. letters. but even more in the perfection of humanity. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. water. so that everything—mineral. including not only chemicals and equipment. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. vegetable.
between the observer and that which is observed. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. This is by no means to suggest. extends into a range of realms at once. Rather. religion. like Jung. nature. The ‘solution. between subject and object. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. like those of science. one would have the solution. But in alchemical works. Here in alchemy. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. However. and the divine in ever more profound ways. literature. In Christian terms. and science are one. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. and the restoration of the right . Contemporary views of literature. Indeed. 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. who then are listed by later mystics—so too in alchemy earlier alchemists are invoked by the later ones in a litany of literary transmission. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. and the divine. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader.’ in the case of alchemy. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. in the manner of a mathematical equation.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. humanity. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. were one to decipher what x and y mean. 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. In alchemy. both of physics and of literary criticism. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. humanity. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. Oral commentary by a master is important. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. It is true that more recently theorists. no doubt of that. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. I would use the word decoding. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative.
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. Indeed. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. in the modern era. between the sciences and the . when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. In the study of Western esotericism. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. PA N 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. divided against the world. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. We should also keep in mind the growing split. R O S I C R U C I A N . Rosicrucianism. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. pansophy. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. in particular Christian theosophy. and Freemasonry. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. As we have seen. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. and twentieth centuries. nineteenth. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. So it is with alchemy. against ourselves. but in relation to a host of other currents. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . and against the divine. especially during the eighteenth. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts.
nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. quite the opposite movement. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. explored theology and metaphysics. Indeed. wrote literary works. comparative and syncretic. rather than seeking to separate. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. in the arts. or Aurora. Rather. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. as well as De Signatura . Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. John Pordage. including. and Franz von Baader. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. chemistry. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). However. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. in the sciences. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. and geology. the discovery of more complex technology. in Western esotericism we find. physical chemistry from metaphysics. nor is that our aim. a city on the eastern side of Germany. practiced medicine and astrology. illustration and literature. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. say. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. The Copernican revolution. this sense of unity dissolved. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. to name only a few of the most luminary. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. our approach being thematic. But Western esotericism. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. at least in the secular world. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. archaeology. and drawing from his visionary experiences.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. and in religion. the fields of alchemy. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. medicine and astrology. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. near Poland. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. It is true that. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. the emergence of biology. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing.
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
The Rosicrucians’ goal. in the Orient. and why he is called Microcosmos. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. R. are to be collected by the wise.” however.. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions.” C. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. of Christian theosophy as well.” These “Books of Nature. Not coincidentally. But in any event. And of course this brief work. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . generally speaking. Indeed. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. and later.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio.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). travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. translates the “book M. R. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. Hermeticism. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. R. C. caused a great stir in Europe. like us. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom.”46 When C. returns eventually to Germany. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. “or a perfect method of all arts. R. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. even if at times such orders did exist. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. the book is a central image and source of wisdom.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is.. if not universalism. according to the Fama. For from the very beginning of the Fama. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit.” into good Latin from Arabic. and this is the “book M. like its complement the Confessio. they could collect Librum Naturae. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. Certainly we can agree with Frances Yates’s assessment that Rosicrucian may more wisely be seen historically as describing a particular kind of approach to arcane knowledge than as a specific organized order. and among Sufis and Kabbalists.
that you could so read in one only book.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. or are able to believe or utter.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. than that which is the head and sum. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. so that no one might later be deceived. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . full of geometric symbolism. belongs to the mind and imagination. the foundations and contents of all faculties. called I. Yet once again. is. and come into our brotherhood. wish. and by them was made the magical language and writing. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. .”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. undestroyed. first. but follow only Christ. and shall be) hath been. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. recur as well in the Confessio. it is to read the universal book. of eclecticism or universalism. and hidden to the wicked world. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto .”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself.” the Fama continues. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. . Among other questions. are now. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. with a large dictionary . and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . every one with their several figures and sentences. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. by four persons only. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. and of reading the mysterious book of books. The description is often hard to follow. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. or hope for. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. 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. “After this manner. . like the book. sciences. and arts. they also made the first part of the book M. a century old. Interestingly. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. and withal by reading understand and remember. . . and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes.” There is more. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. . For when Christian Rosencreutz died.
into all beasts . or sixth age. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. 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.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. 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. . an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. and quite probably to Egypt. yet shall we never be manifested . . without and against the will of God. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . of course. a new language for ourselves. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. a new era for mankind. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. or worse than nothing.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. yea. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. .54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. But this new revelation must be approached with humility.”55 The implication is that here. and have found out. and above all. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. All of this. a very long history in the West. and writing in a “magic language. for instance. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling.” Such an idea of a magic language has. for instance. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. . These aspects of Rosicrucianism. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. . in the Rosicrucian mysteries.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. of course. metahistorical events at the end of time. . with the date 1604.”52 “These characters and letters. the Bible. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. yea. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. and made. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. and endue them with learning . From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing.
demons. that is. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. or why. was of a non-sectarian.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. particularly in France. Here.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. who. or pansophia. and the outrageously baroque. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. and it too has been used in magical workings. 1604. disappearing around 1620. the Confessio. Here. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. brilliant. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment.’s tomb. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders.” 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. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. The Rosicrucian dream. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. 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. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. 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. peaceful. R. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. John Dee (1527–1604). or intelligences. By 1623. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. discovered the “Enochian language. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. as well as in subsequent literature. 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. on a pansophic mysticism. as Frances Yates notes.
whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). The pansophic view. in contrast to theosophy. cabala.p. 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.. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. alchemy. Christian or not. and inquiry into nature more generally. 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. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. derived from alchemy. of course. but like Dee. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. herbalism. cabalistic. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. In many respects. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. including. We might recall that. 1618)]. and Michael Maier. Paracelsus. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. in order to form the basis for a new.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. 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. magical. which is specifically Christian gnosis. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. is universal. various forms of magic. healing. it emphasizes magic. and gnostic. mechanism. or magia naturalis. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. It is true that chemistry. for instance. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. Pansophy. The most obviously included is natural magic. not specifically Christian. often with Kabbalistic influence. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. alchemical. and technologism. Ruechlin. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno.
a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. even if it is illicit. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. magic squares. Philosophia. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation.. almost all. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. planetary correspondences. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. one finds a range of possibilities opening up.O. Among the first of these. D. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. diagrams. et Hyperphysica. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. in later Rosicrucianism. including sorcery. But Chemistry]. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. of vast and intricate tables. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. and a series of . One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. chiefly under the title Physica. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. nee non Magia. de La Rose-Croix.M. including a French edition titled F. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. we tend to think of Faust.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery.A. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. In some respects. as a somewhat medieval figure. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. Cabball. Metaphysica. and much else.
of its hyperphysical dimensions. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow.” “Animal Seed. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms.” and so forth.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. for instance. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. for instance. here we have a different focus. surrounded by winged angelic forms. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr.A. partaking in both.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. in scholastic theology. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world.” “Vegetable Seed. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. marked also Father.” and “Mineral Seed. 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. in visual form. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. and Holy Spirit. Son. John Dee. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica.O.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. or to Rosicrucianism. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. Here.A. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science.” “Heavenly Seed. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”].M. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. .]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. and with the word Chaos.M. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. the greatest occultist of his day. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm.O. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. that is. in time and in eternity. of course. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D.
a prolific chronicler of the unseen. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. 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. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. the arts. and associated with the vast . This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. who studied minerology. (London: 1665). One sees this also. not so very long ago. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. which. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. of course. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). was John Heydon. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. in other words. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. not a visionary. invented an industrial process. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. unlike these other more individualistic movements. truly a Renaissance man. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. the social and political realm. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. Another such figure. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. each of which guarded its particular mysteries.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. Freemasonry. stretching right into the nineteenth century. For all of the Rosicrucian. originally a scientist. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. author of such works as Theomagia. of course. theosophic. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. but published only in German). science. or the Temple of Wisdom. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). and specifically. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s.
and Rosicrucianism. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. on which he explicitly drew. of course. Indeed. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. the Kabbalah.” published in Leiden. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. to a speculative. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. Jewish. of course. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. in 1616 and 1617. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. but the Freemasons endured the longest. the arts. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. and so it is not surprising to find his work filled with countless references to figures and works as diverse as Boethius and the Corpus Hermeticum. Martianus Capella and. not surprisingly. Masonry. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. there seems little doubt that Rosicrucianism itself— whose apocalyptic hopes for an immediate reform of humanity were dashed by the reality of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany—in turn fed into the Masonic stream. and during this time began work on his major treatises. Like Paracelsus himself. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. semireligious occult fraternity. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. John’s College in Oxford. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. 1617). the same time that saw Fludd’s publication of his History by de Bry saw his publication also of two treatises in Latin defending the “Fraternity of the Rosy Cross. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. Indeed. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. his father.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. Fludd. and although . Robert Fludd went to St. Such publication was. Plato and the Bible. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. and the sciences. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. having received a knighthood for his military service. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). Of course. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. Sir Thomas Fludd.
having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. Himself an alchemist. Dr. 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. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century.60 Then again. 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. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. it was clear to Fludd that identification with the Rosicrucians subjected one to much public vitriol—Fludd had been the subject of bitter attacks by a French monk. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. born to an aristocratic family. Marin Mersenne.” Elias Ashmole. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. Ashmole. But in any event. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. Dee’s son. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe.”61 But for our purposes. astrologer. and assiduous bibliophile. . Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. and back to England. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. 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. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. Arthur Dee. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. By the early 1630s.
.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole.”63 That this spoken revelation of the philosopher’s stone comes in “silables” suggests strongly the nature of the Western esoteric linguistic mysticism we have been tracing since antiquity. but they are in any case gnostic. was not simply an antiquarian. and must remain so. of course.64 These three men. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. or as Kabbalistic. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . and John Comenius (1592–1690). . who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. never referred to it again. one could ignore it. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. using a symbolic metalanguage. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. except to his own spiritual son. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. Samuel. after recording this revelation. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. All of this.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. and only philosophers of the English Revolution.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility.62 Backhouse’s father. of course. The true name is hidden. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. John Dury (1596–1680). the real . meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. when Backhouse thought he was dying. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. It is significant that Ashmole. . . editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works.
there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. 3. like the symbolism of alchemy. needless to say. Early in the eighteenth century.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). 2. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . . . so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . . However.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. Also important here is the third point. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. Chymical. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. .”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. and Mechanical. . Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. Arts and Sciences. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. 4. Such a language. 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. according to the Constitutions. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. But most important for us is the final point. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. The aim of a magical language is. Freemasonry. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America.” certainly a pansophic goal. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. Philosophicall.
and those who insist on a much more exoteric. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. with its general tendency to reject. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743).67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. including. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret.68 Within Masonry itself. nonsectarian basis. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. On the other hand. On the one hand. . became prominent in French Masonry. especially in England. luminous. a theosophic circle in London. In it. or ignore esotericism. Masonic values of rationalism. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. England.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. . for instance. especially in France. The work has already been commenced in London. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. and indeed. while publishing numerous books. 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. After her death. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. In this oration. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. it is not surprising that this project. fraternal Freemasonry. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. announced in Ramsay’s oration. great. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. solid. deism. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). had an exoteric. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. Ramsay. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. . fellow craftsman. suppress. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. Italy. And during this time. and master mason. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. excepting only theology and politics.
” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. Rosicrucian. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly.8). In the Graham manuscript of 1726.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. 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. and six for the fellow craft. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. specifically. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. six for the clergy. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. As we have already seen. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. that is. In other words. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. of human and divine architecture both.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry.” In other words.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. which is as follows: one word for a divine. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry.”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. . Indeed. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. by which. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. based as it is on the craft of building. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. Freemasonry. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. even to this day. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. theosophic. God has sealed the six directions of space. I answer it was God in six Terminations. to wit I am.
of course. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. Masonry. Here. magic. in Western esotericism. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. including humanity). woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. Here. the theme of our next section. Finally. including alchemy. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. What is more. but as the actual medium linking humanity. Kabbalah. For according to Western esotericism generally.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. its secret “silable. nature. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. and the divine.” or signature. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. And this role is played out through reading and writing. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. Rosicrucianism. Above all. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. not just as the means of communication among people. not consume it. . pansophy. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. and Christian theosophy.
T r i p u s A u r e u s ( F r a n k f u r t : 1 6 1 8 ) . .Figure 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r.
T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. from .
. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.).Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. Theosophia Revelata.
oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. .). Theosophia Revelata.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme.
). oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. Theosophia Revelata. . edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme.
Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph. O p u s M a g o . .Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .
. (Frankfurt: 1784).C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum.Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye. 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 . O p u s M a g o .
Figure 9 Cecil Collins. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. .” 1988. Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations. “The Music of Dawn. and the evocative.
“Paradise. .” 1976.Figure 10 Cecil Collins.
And pardoned the deceiver. Now I want Spirits to enforce. Or sent to Naples. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. the magician Prospero. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. And what strength I have’s my own. or else my project fails. The main character. has brought the play’s action to an end. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Which was to please. The Tempest. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. Which is most faint. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill.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. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 .
Here. is a prosaic matter. there are numbers. for example. by virtue of his skill with words. standing above a reclining woman. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). In all of these esoteric traditions. for most of us. shows a tall. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. pansophy. also a magician. Initially. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. Let your indulgence set me free. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. as audience. where the poet-singer is. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. often little more than the accumulation of data. traditionally. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. to sing or to say into being. today. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. Warlick. are the magicians. In this most magical of plays. To be a vehicle for the right words. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. winged creature in an ornate room. we realize that we. in effect gives his wand to his audience. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. via the main character. Conventionally. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. As you from crimes would pardoned be. E. To incant is to enchant. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. having relinquished his magical power. for instance. to invoke the forces of creation itself. letters.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. and Freemasonry. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. and freed him. to the audience. it is often inverted and does not . and words—often Hebrew. Rosicrucianism. Reading. That is. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. but there is no transference of magical power. Suddenly. Here Prospero. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. is to touch the nature of being itself. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful.
It is certainly worth doing. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. more or less. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. V. Canticle of Knowledge: O. for instance. However. as with Yeats or H. I will leave such a project for another time. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. into the world of French intelligentsia. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). V. of even greater value is a vertical. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. not only in the case of Ernst. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. his mother Jewish. turning then to H. D. Naturally. D. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). as can in fact be said of the works of. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. sometimes explicitly. After a good education.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. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. with sections on each of the major currents. Milosz traveled widely. for instance. to the magical fiction of C. the poet H. horizontal survey is of value. split further into sections on poetry and prose. D. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. (1886–1961). Here. third. and entry. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. and perhaps for someone else to do. more . While a broad. as with Emerson or Rilke. during which time his family sold their estate.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. secular or not. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. sometimes more implicitly. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. S. and so I will not discuss them further here. But his learning is of a particular kind. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. Lewis (1898–1963) and others..
beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. he experienced a spiritual illumination. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. of heaven. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. Milosz’s poetry. William Blake (1757–1827). by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. Goethe. create a kind of lineage of such figures. . hell. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. Kabbalah. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience.” However. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. and both wrote in dry. Among these figures. Not so Milosz.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. Then. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. in 1914. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. also a tactile visionary. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. in vision. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. and the dwelling places of spirits. These Swedenborg saw. which are what concern us here. Swedenborg was. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. and Western esotericism in general. theosophy. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. Eliot. 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. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. a Don Juanesque figure. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. in fact. as he saw it. and became. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. and. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. S. and perhaps remains. for that matter. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. come to fruition in literary form. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). One can.
thieves of joy and pain. have received and already know. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. The canticle continues: “A ceux. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. astronomy.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. and in particular. and especially the figures we are discussing here. from the cosmos.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. but indeed. / Les autres. having asked. as the organizer of archetypes. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. At this juncture. and especially in Milosz. qui. n’entendront rien à ces choses. and like Blake. seems called upon. to join up with ancient teachings. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being.” telling us that “poetry. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. through a new metaphysics. the observer looks outward. seems bound. crown of human knowledge.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. will understand nothing of these things. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. But the poet. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. to awakening it in his reader.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). / Others. knowledge and love.]”7 . insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. the passionate pursuit of the Real.” or “Canticle of Knowledge.” which. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. on reçu et savent déjà.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. that he anticipated a new poetry. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. and also prehistory and archaic history. on 14 December 1914. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. ayant demandé. Cartographers of consciousness. [For those who. de science et d’amour.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language.”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. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights.
corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas.” We think that the sensible world is situated. this “situated place.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. In fact. ni les fils. but truly fathers of sensible objects. darkness. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. terre. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. etc. light.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here.”8 This gnostic canticle is. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. those who are not affirmers. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of .—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. but negators. but living. nor sons. addressed to the latter.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. have received.” 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]. earth. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. of course. 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. blood. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. lumière. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. But characteristically. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. / For these names are neither brothers.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. he continues. water. not like “Patmos. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. and already know. to the initiate. “meditation on the origin of language.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. soleil. eau. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. sel. salt. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. sun. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire].]”9 In other words.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. 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.” writing that to understand the origin of language. sang. but it is not so. ténèbres. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. as well as the names of metals. “their substance is nameless.” Indeed. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. from Pythagoras to Plato.” This earth of the vision of archetypes.
Milosz tells us again. . as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold.]”13 As we might recall. of love and of wrath. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. At such points. And so it is here. 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. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. . of blessing and of desolation. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. he calls us to the celestial gold. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). muet comme le plomb. Milosz exultantly writes. 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.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts.” “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. Adam. and the gold of celestial memory. [truth does not make sacred language lie: .” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. he implicates us in the poem. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. he tells us. when Milosz addresses us directly. of the primal . he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. . or in Milosz’s words. a revelation. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil.” Simply that.” There is the earthly gold.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. and only describes what he has seen. is the “key to the world of light. mute as lead. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. .” This distinction between truth and lie. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. Here. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . that is. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world].]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. for as he told us before.
different. chaste archetypes.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. le seul situé.”15 Here we find. Thus. / played with me as a father with his child.” and “marrow of iniquity.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted.” selfknowing. we find a spiritual corporeality. in theosophic tradition. but “great trials of negation. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. “the Father of Ancients. not light and serenity of recognition. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. this immense. wise. of those who speak pure language. Milosz writes. the only one situated. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. Milosz tells us. hideous. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. and this is the “solar egg.” 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.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. in the visionary writings of Böhme. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg.” those “lands of nocturnal din. Luciferic brain]. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. In the concluding lines of the canticle. Milosz muses on his early poetry. and looked behind him.” “immense.” an “eternity of horror. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. innocent.]” Then one day.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. [I am always in the same place. of light and darkness. différent.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu.]”16 See. / étant dans le lieu même. for that matter. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds.94 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E powers at work in the constant manifestation of existence. and is the province of those who speak pure language.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. rather. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. and a kind of corporeality of language. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. hideux. delirious. / being in place itself. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”.” “the world of profound. where he saw “the source of lights and forms.
Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. tender metal partners in marriage. tendres métaux époux.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. I touch your brow. par la grâce de la vue du milieu.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. et pour nos trois jours à venir. you speak the truth.” is unquestionably alchemical. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. je te touche le front. trois vois—le signe. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. between the lightworld and the darkworld. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. and his Hymns to the Night. Beatrix. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. Qu’ils sont beaux. as though the various elements of his mind were projected outward into a kind of initiatic psychodrama of the kind one also sees in ancient Hermetism or the Mysteries. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. by the grace of inner vision. again three times. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. let us make the sign.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 95 remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang. and since we have now known one another seven years. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. at its end. le signe! [seven times for the past. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. Thus the canticle. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme.” replies Beatrix. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. but refers to an inner alchemy. to “tender metal partners in marriage. This poem. innocents! [The parents sleep there. [Dear child. is especially of interest to us here. and for our three days to come. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. and clothed with the sun. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself.]” . in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. [1775–1802]). “Master.
The alchemical . Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. and black. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. leaden and lachrymal. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. The woman in the poem. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. and “Lumière de l’or. is reborn!” Thus once again. you liberate yourself. tu te délivres. Beatrice. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. of course. The adept watches. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. yellow. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night.]”21 It is. “I believe it is. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. I tell you. 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. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. white and pale blue.” while the “oil of blind corruption.” not only references to the alchemical furnace.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama.” sinks to the depths. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. [It is life liberated. The Master forgives me. “I see only one. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy.96 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E The language here is completely that of Hermeticism: indeed. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. any more than are those of the adept. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. but the adept replies. [My chains of constellations are broken. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. partaking rather of a heightened. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. Beatrix. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. he comes back to life. He opens his eyes and is reborn. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. charity. woman. charitée. And in the conclusion of the poem.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. and to its incantory language. [Light of gold.
The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. then? Undoubtedly. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. is also to participate in it. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry.” a “faithful and pious narrative. 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. or rather. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. in other words. in what it reveals. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. . in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. by Milosz. oneself. the large cloud vanishes. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. one senses vast expanses around one. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. as unemotional as nature. The incantory.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. 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. a light appears. by a metallic red-hot egg. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana.” The line is the fourth verse. At the same instant.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. perfectly awake.” and that “In the author’s mind. rests in a horizontal position. after all.: initiate].
to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. scientifically. thereafter. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. He insists that in order to understand. one may even say. that. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. yet his erudition. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. It is perhaps useful. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. Such experience is of the truly situated. meaning the archetypal realm. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. on which it alights like a crown. he is among the most erudite of poets.23 There is still more. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. 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. moving up a little. though including many great poets. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. its brutal mass wars. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. And authentic literature. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. and in this there is a kind of reversal. Milosz .” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. just as he ignores and despises that world. Without question. 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. we must bow down. stands still. becomes rounder. referring to the reader as “my son. at this point. its secular hedonism and materialism. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. because it springs from this archetypal reality. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal.
but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. Martinez de Pasqually. sought in them peace of spirit. the School of Alexandria. Claude de Saint Martin. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. [a single new word the same / heart as in the time of the fathers beats in wood / stone and water of all that returns there is / nothing new all those things were sleeping / in closed books the books have opened themselves / beneath my hand.”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. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. Eugène Ledrain. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. Plato.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow.” 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.” Milosz continued.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them.” 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. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. from Egypt up to today. Swedenborg.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. 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.” 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. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. alias René Descartes.” and .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. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. the mystical eighteenth century. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. passing through the Pre-Socratics.
the books open themselves to him. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. Here. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. inside the books of life and of knowledge. for instance. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. King of the unified world. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. and Savoy. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. if we may coin a word. Eliot. Milosz held.” which are far more extensive than anything T. it is not books that we are waiting for. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry.” in fact.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. science. 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. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. . 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. the visionary poet. Germany. as early as 1919. Hermeticism and Kabbalism.100 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E a mysticism that has “all those things” “sleeping in closed books” that open themselves under the poet’s hand. in 1938. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. S. Le Forestier. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. and books. . R. . Under the heading “Hiram. and art. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. and several other historians of the brotherhoods in their research on the origins of an institution which claims to descend from the Essenes and from the Priests of the Holy . 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. my son. the universal regent of faith. in short. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. wrote for his poetry. King of the Unified World. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. Hiram. In his “Poem of the Arcana. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. Joseph de Maistre.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. and the true poet. words.
the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy 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. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge.”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. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. in the sacred poem of the Arcana.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. alias René Descartes. He writes that “Today.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. 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.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. relatively not distant.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. like all the continents and all the states of this world. who announced a coming millennium. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. as we have seen.’ announce their impending appearance. like spirit and matter. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. aspire to holy unification. especially the dream of a world utopia. Religion and science. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons.”32 Here. he brings in the theme that.” Here. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world.” He prophesies that “all laboratories of the highest thought will come to group themselves in an immense circle around the future Church of Our Lady. Indeed.
For us. the other members being his apostles. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. And there are numerous other such examples. however.” And in his little esoteric group. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. of political. . The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. Milosz wrote. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. author of The Magus. sought the widest possible range. the “science of the divine.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. and the arts via religion. and that he deliberately. in his work as in his private life. the sciences. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. in his letter to James Chauvet. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life.”38 Such a group.”39 These dreams of universality. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. I am the enemy of exteriorization. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. of course. for instance. In his work. moral or social. and scientific fusion. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. religious.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. de Lubicz. among them its ritual dress. Our group will have no more than twelve members. with a white collar. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. being the Christ-figure. but explicitly Christian. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. not to say grandiosity. as we have seen. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. The Master alone will wear a red cap.
Like Prospero in his final speech. the Tarot.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H.’s life and interests. novels. Lewis. D. That H. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. However. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. D. the poet H.. of course. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. H. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. we . the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. D. but toward the future. Charles Williams. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization.’s poetry. Although we here will take our leave of them. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. S. astrology. today. There are. and a new golden age.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. Here. and essays. and Milosz. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. but also for the universality of his aims. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. a relatively obscure figure. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. Indeed. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. D. numerology. C. Rosicrucianism. Indeed. D. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. little studied in academe. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. which outlines the intertwining of H. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. D. D. not toward the present. magic. In these efforts. 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. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. through his writing. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. psychic insights or visions. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. and Kathleen Raine. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981).
. astrology. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. D.”41 Although the major works by H.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. D. a cap of consciousness . for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. Woman in the Nineteenth Century..’s life it is repeated a number of times.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. as many critics have observed. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. D. by recognizing that H. In his introduction to H.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. D. overmind. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. was fascinated by numerology. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. D. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. like H. Likewise. and on the other Margaret Fuller. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). D. But when we begin to look at H. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. In Esoteric Origins. Margaret Fuller.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. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. D. however. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. Notes is a very unusual work. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. 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. explicitly esoteric book.’s early. D. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. D. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. D. mind. We should begin. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. For it seems clear from her poetry. save that in H. D. for H. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. H. “The Thistle and the Serpent.
She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. Into that over-mind. Without doubt. The two work separately. That overmind seems a cap. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. . She writes that to be a true artist. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. which is possible for all. or anemone.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. D. contained in a defininte space. with the gulls and the sky and the earth.42 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. D. a nonsectarian. engage in a union of love and intellect. except through the intellect. fluid yet with definite body. like water. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. 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. as primary to the true artist. a musician. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. Whatever else we may make of it. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. now. jelly-fish. I visualise it just as well. indeed. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. and third is the awakening into the overmind. almost like two lenses. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. She places gnosis.’s work has feminist implications. syncretic . . a musician. affecting a little my eyes . thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. is a gnostic with a small g. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. D. or awakening into the overmind. D. D. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. H.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. yet make one picture. She does write about a “vision of the womb.’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.”43 H. transparent. my forehead. As we read on through Notes. . H. second is the life of the intellect. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. H. It is like a closed sea-plant. D.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. perceive separately. .” The minds of the lovers unite. one must. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion.
” mind “floundered. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. / companions / of the flame.47 In M.” In the next section. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. too. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. helpers / of the One. the overmind being above it. prayer” for healing. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H.”48 All of this suggests that there is . and H.” “Tribute to the Angels. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. / born of one mother. pitiful reticence.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . reversion of old values. / oneness lost. unlocked. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. dare more. D.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. as these entities are “healers. devour.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. She writes “dare. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. In this respect. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. D.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. madness. seek.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.” “arrogance. E. D. for instance. was lost in sea-depth. is a false path. / here is the alchemist’s key. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. In Notes on Thought and Vision. As a number of scholars have demonstrated.” H.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. Amen. seek further. over-confidence. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. . she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work.” we “nameless initiates. she holds. . D. / it unlocks secret doors. H. All-father.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. D.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension.” here. boasting.” And the section ends with “illusion. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two.” She writes. this. of the “alchemist’s secret.”45 “Amen. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. spell.” and of “the most profound philosophy”.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. Here.” H. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. D.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall.
” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great.” through painting or writing. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. devoid of life. H. . too little: I know. artful and curious. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. this passage suggests the complexity.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. / inventive. this has been proved heretical.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. this. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. D.”50 Here H. conditioned to hatch butterflies . but this.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. D.” . / in the light of what went before. / lead us back to the one-truth. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. The next work in H. little boxes. . The words themselves may resemble boxes. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. H.”49 Thus.” “invoke the true-magic. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. D. they are anagrams. cryptograms. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. D. too little affirmation.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. In a well-known passage. but also those who come after her. H. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies.’s invocation of Hermes.” whose “province is thought. D. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. D. I feel the meaning that words hide. too much. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. then writes: We have had too much consecration.” “candle and script and bell. “patron of alchemists.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. / re-vivify the eternal verity. continues. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. she is calling herself to a sacred task. illuminate what came after. symbols of Psyche reborn. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves.
” but re-awakened. it was an ordinary tree. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. D. H. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. the conditions under which. saw. the shattered glass of the past. we saw the tree flowering. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. D. John. H. I testify. reinvoked in a new form. the poet must “melt down and integrate.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. after all. recreated by the poet. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . was writing these poems. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. H.52 These lines reveal many layers. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. in an old garden-square. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. like a ghost. D.” One must “reinvoke.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). in the high-altar of a ruined building. so too can the poet be. how is it you come so near. and so too by implication can we be. indivisible Spirit. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. is attempting in her poetry here. D. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. we entered a house through a wall. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here.
is a gnosis of the word. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. themselves conveyed to the reader through H.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. D. the flowering of the wood.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. In H.’s vision. symbol of Hermes. music could do nothing with it. / . And this experience is gnosis. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. D. nothing whatever.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. H. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature).”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. / it was a sign. / it was the Holy Ghost—. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. with Saint Michael. alluded to. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. / the darkness of ignorance. But there is another recurrent theme in Trilogy that we also cannot ignore and that is indivisible from this mysterious and profound experience of the divine: the figure of Sophia. In this context. D. it is happening everywhere. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. conveyed through the poetry. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. . the divine feminine. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too.’s poetry. H. This experience.’s “Tribute to the Angels. . D. D. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. Hence H.’s poetry in general. and even more overtly.” This experience “was vision. the next section is very important. D. and Trilogy in particular. In it. writes that This is no rune nor riddle.
They are not. obviously. to her astonishment. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. under her “drift of veils. as we will see in more detail shortly.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. and H. the scribe. D.’s Trilogy.” H. brought into paradise with Christ. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. She who has been seen “the world over. for H. D. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. the Bible. and that. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. And She is “Holy Wisdom. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. was a baptized Moravian. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. whether it is con- . she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone.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.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. D. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. D. the butterfly. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. D. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. the thief.” “Santa Sophia.” And She is also “Psyche.” she of the Bona dea. in the context of the three poems together. / out of the cocoon.’s own heritage. right into the final poem. / who did not forego our heritage” .”56 Sophia herself appears to H. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. 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.” This refrain. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. D.. allied to Mercury also. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes.” 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.” “she carried a book. Sophianic spirituality was in H. and the thief. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. Rather. Hermes is the patron of the artist.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. who is also redeemed. the writer. D. D.
H. as in the original.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.” with the experience of Christ.” all are interwoven here. In her poetry. that until 1998. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. fear. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. Likewise. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. D. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. D. The Gift.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. Eliot and W. of mysticism. D. H. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. Hermes and Christ. D. however. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). Woman in the Nineteenth Century. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. Eve and Mary. 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.’s own notes. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. 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. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. What is more. 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. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . It is not surprising. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. complete with H. To understand this mysticism more fully. S. H. B. H. we must turn to The Gift. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. 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. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. I suppose.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself.
“Old Father Weiss.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. itself.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research.” of the “Arcana. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. Knapton. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. D. . especially those now housed at Yale University. H. 1755). H. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. Rimius. D. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. in the middle of the eighteenth century. it was in fact in her blood. D. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. cited by H. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. make clear this distinction. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. and he was born in Bethlehem. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. 1794). with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. in her notes. D. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. In other words. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. Robinson. Pennsylvania. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. in . H. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. her grandmother’s father. Linde. D. 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. was herself a baptized Moravian. Mysticism. In toto. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. 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. had done her research. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . & P. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. Rimius’s works. H. 1753). D. though I must confess. 1753). 1909).”58 About such accusations. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally.” or Jedediah Weiss. . And her personal library gives ample proof that H. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. D. We can see the extent and depth of H. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. Pennsylvania. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. D.
Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. writes. The novel.” H. . explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. in short. Mother. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . it does exist. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. and Son. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. 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. D. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. The Moravian Church. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. . but also of the older poet H. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. “There is no royal road into this kingdom.. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. to initiate the reader. conventionally the church. D. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. respected and highly respectable. “you just stumble on it. We were a small community. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. D. D. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. Hilda. 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. into The Gift. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation.” She goes on: . saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. 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. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. there was no hint of this exoticism. and its doctrines as representing a pure. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. D.”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. referring to Father.. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome.
” she told Hilda. . even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). D. as some scholars seem to think. . Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. Then am I for a moment . that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. That is how it is. this is the game I play. In chapter 5 of The Gift. Hilda is wondering if the word alone can serve as a means of initiation so that the spiritual mysteries of her heritage can be continued. in some aspects of the story. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. I mean. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. “Christian had left the Secret with me. . can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. men play a greater role than women. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. that is why it is so quiet. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. . the story she tells is of a hidden gnostic tradition stretching back to at least the time of the Knights Templar in the medieval period. and even here in her narrative. Island of Wonders.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. considerably more of this theme to unpack. cut on a wall at Karnak.” The first is when Mamalie. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. But really “live” it. the word stops. but Hilda (and along with her. later learning it means Island of Wounds). these are the keys. indeed. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. . I was afraid the Secret would be lost. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. The other bees have gone. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . “The Secret. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. Egyptian . A word opens a door. Hilda surmises. Hilda’s grandmother. but there are no bees in it now. But there is more. it is like that little flower that Mrs. Williams called a primula. The word is like a bee-hive. Rather. . I mean. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. These spiritual mysteries are not. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. it is what the novel does for H. A word opens a door . who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life.
. it is not a confabulation of H. Pyrlaeus. is not Europe but North America. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. but this was untrue. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. though. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place.’s. She and her .” not just Minne-ha-ha.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. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. According to Mamalie. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. “like scales running up and down. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. though. this laughter that ran over us. Hebrew. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland.62 Like the Templars. .” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. had a name for. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. in particular the Shawnee. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. was to decide the future of the whole country . she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. but all of them.” “the laughter of leaves. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. indeed.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. so that “It was laughing. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. it was the laughter of the water. the answer given by the Spirits. Greek. said Mamalie. Mamalie continues. done in their picture-writing. bore the names of Cammerhof. kept in a birch-bark case. altogether. This rapport is historically verifiable. of snow swirling.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. of wind.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship.” This scroll.63 In The Gift. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. D.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. laughing all the time. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit.
Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. those hiding in the attic burned alive. And in a subsequent event. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. 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. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. said in her fragmented narrative. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. and then. so much so that she never played music again. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. Mamalie. raining down terror from the skies. in an even more attenuated form. .” but instead what we see is a tragic history. decoded it and she played it. Wunden Eiland. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. H. so that the two of them shared in the original descent of the Holy Spirit just as Hilda was later to share in it through communion with it via what she calls “the Gift. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter.” 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. domination. In her notes. The Gift. having “burnt it up. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. In 1755.”69 The two worlds have become one.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. D.” as “Aryan. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. Christian Seidel. or Wounded Island. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. even refers to the American David Williamson. who was to die at twenty-five. called “New Gnadenhütten.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. At the novel’s conclusion. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. And yet in the very final passages.
her work suggests that past. and out of which all great work is generated.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence.’s English present. D. But above all. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. .” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. D. H.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. D. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. not merely as decorations. D. H. H. Her interest in spiritualism. one of the original Moravian initiates. Indeed.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. for instance. D. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. both poetic and fictional. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. Among major twentiethcentury authors. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. In this context. Likewise. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. In her poetry and fiction. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. As we have seen.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. as well as of timelessness and time. singing of the Wounds. H. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. 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. there. H. D. past and present.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. In her profoundly ambitious works.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England.V. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. and future continually intermingle. but as integral to her work. the more deeply one looks into her works.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. present. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions.
dynastic Egypt. D. true we had met in sudden frenzy. The Lucifer-Lilith. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. outlined in entirety. late Rome. Vale Ave. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. may be Angel or Devil. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. meeting and parting. yes. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. the Light-bringer. but at the same time. as Adam. Elizabeth recalls him to her. whom we invoke as Lucifer. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. and contemporary London. through her fiction and through her poetry. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. Lilith. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. legendary Provence. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. but it was only in her later work that we see it. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. Mystery and a portent. H. has the same root derivation as Seraph. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. early seventeenth-century England. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. and all the rest was mystery and a portent.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. D.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. H. D. and its implications. parted in the dark. to be sure.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. in his pre-Eve manifestation. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. as history tells us. We cannot conclude without reference to H. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. After his death. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said.71 . although: I hardly knew my Lord. through time—specifically.
” the mysteries of the holy well. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. I would like to explore not the art of magic. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. taken in toto.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. 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. Her poetry and her prose. . But then “From grotto grove and shrine. D. the “springs gone under the hill.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. Of course.” and again through it “I had the answer. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. But my . but for our purposes the most important is the foregrounded theme of male-female spiritual alchemy that “may be applied to all men and women.’s lifetime of work. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams.” 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. / infinity portrayed in simple things. . Yet in the twilit realm of fiction.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. 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. The dead are living still.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. Here. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. the Writing. “the Mystery.” the holy presences withdraw. D. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. and the Scroll. here again “the words laugh.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. as in poetry. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” .
R. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. “That is why they will work only through a man.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. S. yes. or pretends to produce. J. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. “one who by his own will once opened it. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. saying “I have become a bridge. and the descrip- . invokes the Oyéresu. R. C. or Venus. 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.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. R. Lewis. an alteration in the Primary World. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. John Ransom. and so forth.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes.” replies Ransom.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. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). S. J. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. it is not an art but a technique. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. Here. here.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. seems reasonable enough in theory. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. its desire is power in this world. Viritrilbia. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. domination of things and wills. and Charles Williams).” But later in the same essay. His main character.” “Their naked power. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. things are not nearly so clear cut.” says Ransom. R. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. the “true powers of Heaven.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams.” which might best be translated as “magic. or Mercury. C. it remains distinct from the other two. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. fay or mortal. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. they will unmake all Middle Earth.” “Sir. when we turn to actual works. “The Descent of the Gods.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. Tolkien. as one might imagine. Let us take an example.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. Magic produces.
full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. .”80 It is not really 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. sweet-scented and full of desire. unmitigated.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. and the Blue Room. They were blinded. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. where the invocation has its center. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. here. bright and ruthless. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. were it possible. ready to kill. sticky gums . there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. . until his outraged senses forsook him. calling down the powers. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. deafened.” the narrator tells us. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. They could not bear that it should end. 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 . awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech.”78 This initial scene-setting represents a kind of portal through which we as readers imaginatively enter into what is happening in the two rooms: it represents the beginning of an initiation into this magical working. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. outspeeding light: it was Charity . lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops.” “He would have known sensuously. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . . In the beginning of the chapter. . and then comes the goddess: “fiery. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. In this chapter. They thought it would burn their bones. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. . sharp. in which none other than the ancient . They experience “needle-pointed desires. .”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. . Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. They could not bear that it should continue. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. brisk merriments. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. scorched. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. . Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. ready to die. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel.
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 novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. In other words. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. and the Director (Dr.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. one with ordinary people. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. Therefore . About Williams’s novels.”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. of course. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. and one with Merlin and Ransom). The invocation takes place. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. “Obviously it was high time she went in. in a “secondary world” of fiction. Anne’s. she sees that clothes are piled inside. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways.” the seventeenth chapter. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. In so doing. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. though one could easily imagine it so. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. and by its end. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. but he always maintains a link with mundane life even at the heart of the magical working itself (by way of the device of two rooms.
] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. and decidedly corrupt ones. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. 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. 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. almost cathartic effect. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. . and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. On the other hand. I wrote it. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. and how therefore the reader is in . But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. in fact. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. not find it very entertaining. in general.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. I am afraid. for instance. 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.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. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. one is also encountering new realms of existence. they unveil the power of archetypes and. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. By doing so. for in the act of reading. Who and what is Lilith. [Emphasis added. . [Emphasis added. For that. 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. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. It was not written for its entertainment value. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. In effect they are initiations. I have put a great deal into it. they reveal forms of necromancy. to find out what it was about.
the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. The magic worked. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. like all of her . Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. badly lit and ill-tended room. not surprisingly. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. 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. but Fortune was. a shabby. magicians call it magic. appears clearly in her novels. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. the side She turns away from earth. which is the dark side of the Moon. I made the astral projection by the usual method. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. In some respects. putting my cards on the table. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. and I seemed to be in a strange room. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. Fortune’s novel. In the novel’s seventh chapter. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. after all. for it is effectual. untidy. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. who is Moloch. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. It does not matter to me what it is called. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. that is to say. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. and imagined myself speaking to him. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction.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. 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.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. She gave rise to the character Lilith.
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.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. but I shared in their life. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. Holmes. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. Rhodes. for. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. . Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. was consummately the logician. . for I was one with them . but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. I was no longer alone. 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. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. “in all things there was a profound difference. As a character. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. After his entry into the Unseen. The Secrets of Dr.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. Not only were they alive. Thus Rhodes. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). I had passed over into the Unseen.”85 And so the book concludes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. a young woman named Ursula . but perhaps most interestingly. a fellow named Fouldes. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. Marius.” 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 many others. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. one will recall. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. at the end of the story. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. Taverner. like Taverner.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. Taverner is patterned after Holmes.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. to “enter the Unseen. Rhodes.
Then. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. Yet paradoxically. banked and double-banked. a bear of a man. ‘Well. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . ‘so that’s that.’ replied Murchison. they were getting it in the neck. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. suddenly. The strange. . . The girl he could do nothing for.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. . running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. but then Murchison. breaking the embarrassing silence. . In That Hideous Strength. and. Frost and Wither are without mercy. and in another moment the room was empty . represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. and her half-brother. there are also depraved black magicians. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. among them men named Frost and Wither.’ said Brangwyn. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. an experienced magician. they are without morality. cold and merciless. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. pure selfishness.’ Brangwyn concluded. but also logically. ‘That is very much that. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. He was experienced in dealing with such things.’ ‘Yes. like Astley in The Winged Bull. Of the two books. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. . She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). dropping into a chair as if exhausted. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it.
Taverner. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). But Charles Williams and even C.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. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. 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. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. There is. In all of the fiction we are considering here. Whether or not a disciple has a master. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune.90 . This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. or with the help of an initatory. Williams. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. . but that also go beyond seeing into nature. and thanks to that. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. in this kind of fiction. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. either alone.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. helped by appropriate texts. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. S. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. experience of magic. 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. Lewis. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. powers both good and evil. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces.
we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. active imagination is essential. Such a tension corresponds. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works.” and thus to written works like novels.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author.” What conclusions can we draw. if we may so put it. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. Second. Williams. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. since in the fiction we have been discussing. then. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. Third. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. Finally. 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. 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. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. . a mesocosm possessing its own geography. 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. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities.128 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E I would suggest that the order of these final points be reversed.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. In fact. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. thoroughly real. Indeed. in literary form. a mesocosm possessing its own geography.
Thus. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. indirectly or directly. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. 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. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. an important and genuinely original British painter. higher aspects of nature and humanity. 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). As we have already seen. there remain fundamental differences. 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. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. transcendent and perhaps. in the sense of Rilke. and that like his contemporary poet. held in London’s Tate Gallery. but also in Böhmean theosophy. but with the publication of this book. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. and his writings reveal in detail his . where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. Still. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. Collins was a gifted aphorist. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. angelic realm. E.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. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal.. which is why I have chosen to study them together. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. Theosophic illustrations in particular.
In Cambridge in 1945 he wrote acidly What an age to live in! It bites into you with a formless denying of the life in us. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue.’ must make intellectual connections individually. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. But here I wander. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians .” or again. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. Denies the artist. But you exist. the human being. and I know nothing. is imbued always with spiritual significance. I remember you. In “Hymn of Life. denies all who have inward fruit. A frustration of all that which is growing. Totnes. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. A winter of the spirit is over all society. we are all exiles. I know of your existence.95 In 1965. the contemplative. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. [14 January. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. for he must ‘leap the gaps.” 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. and my life with you. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. of all that which desires to give. for Collins.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age.” Ordinary life in the natural world. I long for my kingdom. 1945. I long for my race. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. to come to fruition. Our time denies.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. of his solitary walks in the countryside.
” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. in Collins’s view. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. awaken this inner rapport in us.] 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. rapport.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 131 who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. 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.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. In his essay “Art and Modern Man.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. 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[. It can only be known by inner nuance. . another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. . Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. For like answers to like and creates actualization . and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. This is the same thing actually. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. and the making of money. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. the meaning. by measurement or analysis. by description.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. . and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness.97 Works of art. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. but only by rapport with those worlds. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. The value of the artist is not to decorate. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization.
the opening of man’s inner nature. his inner world. rocks. it becomes qualitative. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. ‘Everything that lives is holy. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. We live. spiritu- .132 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E As our consciousness becomes transformed we become more sensitive to a wider range of nuance and vibration[. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. the answer comes back to us from within them. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. and that is the eye of the heart. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. canonic language. religious. in Collins’s view. In the past. canonical religions and ritual. in a “time of the apocalypse. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. But there is something else that has to be opened. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art.’ In other words.98 The work of art. the unveiling of the atom. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. and transmuted.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. widened. and what is more. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. in Collins’s view. . that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. the elements.” In his final remarks. trees. we have no canonic culture of our own. he writes. of mere desires. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental.” 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. we have communion with it[. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. We are all apt to fall asleep. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. . and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil.
around them a halo of golden-yellow light. 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. by patterns on the limbs and torso. make it bleed. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. To gaze at this painting is to . “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. the one with the sword. What we are asked to do in the new age is to understand what the function of art is and to give our support and collaboration to the artist. as in many of his visionary paintings. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. Often. Many of these images have a strange. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. an active support.” 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. landscape. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. the figures’ eyes are opened. landscape is transformed as well. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. to the left the orb of the sun. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. and the other with the light. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. Here. her head bent back and contemplative. in “The Invocation. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. but that is uplifting and paradisal. dreamlike. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. such as “The Invocation” (1944).100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. a union of figure. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. too.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. like “Angels” (1948). Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. not afraid to wound the heart. In many of his later paintings. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. and vibrant color. hieratic quality. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze.
but central. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. and indeed. by which we make contact with reality through images . In another book. But Collins offers these through visual images. but also essays. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. like an electrical transformer. In all of these works. Collins wrote in this book. and poems that illuminate his paintings. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. we then have ‘sacred space. . and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. as in the works of Milosz and H. Here. Indeed.’ sacred images. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. in Collins’s view.. so that God becomes a table. aphorisms.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. Meditations.. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. or altar. Poems. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. Divine Reality. H. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. chair.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. that like Milosz. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. Lost paradise and . D. And it is also clear. a world between us and it. D. he offers through his paintings. In this respect. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. his drawings. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). he is like very few other painters. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. not least because his work includes not only images. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. .
THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. as Dionysius himself points out. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. or way of negation. of course. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. and the arts in written form. to the conjunction of spirituality. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. or mere entertainment. for instance. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. but rather. the way of images and forms and transformations. For in our overview of Western esotericism. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. First. as a means of transmitting knowledge. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. science. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. these are the themes of these great artists. Thus our third point: that . and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. what we find is in fact the via negativa. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. It is. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. and the via negativa. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. and awakening gnosis. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. Strictly speaking. although they may contain an element of play. or way of affirmation.
but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. the divine. ‘third element. Ideas. chemistry. works only by reference to this third element. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. Western esoteric traditions. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. history.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. And Western esoteric literature. on the other hand. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. and there is sheer transcendence. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. plant extracts. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism.’ the divine. the cosmos.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. Rather. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. But in Western esoteric traditions. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. psychology. sociology. geology. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. and so on. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. between humanity and the cosmos. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. there is only the division between self and other. In a modern worldview. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. between the human and natural realms. Here is the essential division between a modern. D.’ quantifiable knowledge. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. or Symbols. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. and the divine. sometimes called by Böhme the . are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. hidden. In modern education. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life.
or any of the other major esoteric currents. or Fullness. Thus the artist. The aim of the esoteric . This archetypal realm. cosmology. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. biology. and a chemist. is in fact prophetic. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. and his fall from paradise. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. in this worldview. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. we find a divine art and a divine science. often seen as androgynous. In all of these traditions. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. Rosicrucianism. first. Adam. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. a divine mathematics. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. the absolute unity of subject and object. and literary expression. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. and by others the Nothing. for all three of these poets. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. in order to create. a theologian. For the purpose of such literature is. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. meaning by that not absence. theosophy. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. In brief. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. an artist. alchemy. but nothing. a mythologist. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. by definition a ‘seer. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. The artist.
pansophic. the language of creation itself. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. temurah. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. 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. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. a theosopher. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. an alchemist. whether a Kabbalist. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. theosophic. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. . 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.’”102 Likewise. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. contains some secret of wisdom. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. Hence. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. Rosicrucian. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. or a pansoph. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. magical. even from a single letter. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. almost always denoting divinity.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. which is to say. In this perspective. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. where it arguably sparked the entire . for instance. and Masonic illustrations. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. author of The Magus. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. . and notarikon.
theosophy. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. when surveying the various esoteric currents. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state.’ and this is not necessarily so.” or the “Book of Revelation. Social Realism. . of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. magic. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been.104 Obviously. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. certainly it may be the Christian . This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. following the various currents through Kabbalism. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. Futurism.” or the “Book of Life”. and Masonry. generally speaking . The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. consequently. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. 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. influenced much of modern Russian literature. and especially of written language and of the book. it may be the “Book of Nature. 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. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. . in their cosmogonic mythologies the genesis of a new world was conceived principally as a glottogenetic process: the creation of new language obtained the paramount role in the realization of a new ideal world of the future.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and.
Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. Islam. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. much less in Christianity specifically. 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 true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. and what is more. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. or in Buddhism. and so on back into antiquity. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. Given our overview. In Hinduism or Buddhism. for instance. or masters. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. However. interrupted. 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. which indeed still finds them audiences today. but rather relied upon the written word. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. or nonexistent. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. 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.140 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Bible or the Jewish Talmud or the Islamic Koran. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. and indeed even farther back. Indeed. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. Hermes. gurus. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. Even in the case of alchemy. and Geber. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. where the tradition .
” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. may think of his poetry. That is to say. One thinks here. dreamlike language and imagery. Christian theosophic literature. By contrast. whatever one . of course. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. when we look at the writing of Milosz. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. and in particular at its strange. Milosz. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. are not simply decorations. of Abraham Abulafia. Somehow. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. often strikingly beautiful. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. who. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. Such a view of the written word is. I believe. hieratic. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. to some future initiate in a far century. but . In modern parlance. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. Indeed. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation.’ or ‘data’. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally.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. in addressing this far-off “son. These illustrations. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. but who rather offered the world only written works. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. initiatory. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. particularly the works of Böhme. which in turn generated a host of further written works—as if the written word itself were the primary means of individual and social transformation. Such evocation is. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. have been adorned with copious illustrations. Let us take another example. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. for in all cases.’ a means of conveying ‘information. V Milosz. naturally. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination.
and over time those seeds can take root. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. does have an initiatic function—that is. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. reaping. that is.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. Taken together. for instance. in other words. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. represented by a cross. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. Rather. For instance. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. the dark-world of hell. What is more. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. In my view. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. Such an illustration. which refers to . and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. through the turbulence of earthly life. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. pansophic. marked also “Sophia. the lightworld of paradise.106 To explain this phenomenon. by gazing at such an image. tending. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. grow. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. In this way. I use the term ahistorical continuity. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. so there is no need here to repeat myself. This metaphor—of sowing. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. and flower in the reader too. Obviously.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. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. theosophic. it is more immediate and visceral. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path.” or Wisdom. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence.
Such a paradigm can be reawakened. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current.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. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. instead. After all. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. Here. and who have a desire to begin. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. and are in earnest. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. Perhaps. Thus. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. for example. . who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. leave untouched the precious Names of God . the daily news. if you wish to use this little book aright. this function must be a change in consciousness. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. as I am suggesting. one might even say impossible. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. it can reëmerge in another. Such a reader joins with the author. you truly will know its worth. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. 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. or a biology textbook. Naturally. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that .’ a becoming familiar and even intimate with his language and vision until his unusual terminology and ways of expression become part of one’s inner landscape and view of the world. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. . If. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective.
”107 Or again. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light.” “Be rightly warned. or has knowledge-of. Then that thing. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. but.” If on the one hand. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. but the “instrument of God.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. which it sees as divine. a prayer for washing and dressing. he tells us. a prayer for the evening.” or objectified realm. a prayer for one’s daily work. 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. not by merely mouthing the words.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. judgemental consciousness. to become a channel for the divine current. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. in his “Warning to the Reader. it walks in its own delusion. and a prayer before sleep.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. 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. this objectifying delusion.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. and become not its own possession.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. the source from which they emerge. and second. one automatically is caught in delusion. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. . that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. and experience the divine directly. and so on for the entire week. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. and for when one rises. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. a prayer for noon. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly.
in the archetypal realm there is . There is simply awareness. conversely. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. the light and the dark. the self in one sense continues to exist. For language is in its innermost nature divine. There emerges a spacious or open quality. there is no sense of separation between self and other. in other words. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. the origin not only of language. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. In this sublime unity there is no congealing into an objectified self-other division—through paradox and enigma is expressed the sheer transcendence out of which emerges the dazzling archetypal realm. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. although there are divisions between archetypes. or perceiver and what is perceived. In other words. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. in that there remains an observer. then language must reflect this division. where. just as. or subject and object. between the divine and the natural. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. of course. Above. in Western esotericism generally. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. divine in its origin. Indeed. as we have seen. as are nature and humanity. we have the point of origin. the yes and the no. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. Here we are. but of the cosmos itself. love and wrath. or the divine eye that sees itself.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. 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. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. or divided from the divine. at the far limit of what we can express in language. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is.
yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. but never owned. in these esoteric traditions. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. or manifest more indirectly in literature. For Western esotericism. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. and the divine. the divine is perforce unmentionable. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. transformative. in modern literary theory or theories of language. Undoubtedly. But by the late twentieth century. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. consumerist state was built from a materialist. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. and the participatory. Language. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. suppression. secular. and so forth. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. and objectified worldview. By contrast. During this . These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. secular. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. for after all. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. or separation into self and other. Here we are beginning to discern how Western esotericism in all of its various manifestations or guises is fundamentally different from modern views in its approach to language.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. 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. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. The massive machine of the modern technological. nature. which is rife with the language of objectification.
scientific or otherwise. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. in particular. If so. inner territory. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. profound connections between humanity. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. As we have seen throughout this study. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. But to begin to explore this new. including elements of the sciences. A R T. and the arts. religion. and the divine. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. nature. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. 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. but also for society itself. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. psychology. the Lullian art. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. magic or theosophy. L I T E R AT U R E . To this we now turn. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. Buddhism. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. which is to say.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. troubadours and chivalry. in theosophic works. of awakening latent. too. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. to name only a few. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. after all that we have surveyed.
but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. E. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. at this juncture. and the divine. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. 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 .148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. as we have seen. he simply began to murmur line after line. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. E. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. nature. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. In this view. 1867–1935). To use Plato’s metaphor.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. A. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. But A. . this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. a friend of Yeats. A. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. he tells us. to turn to a poet. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. and indeed. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. but of reality. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. rejoicings. In this esoteric view of literature. E. not the life of shadows. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. found throughout Western history. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. (George William Russell. It may be of use. E. The poet’s psyche. In his book Song and Its Fountains. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. . . The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. as the seers tell us. Indeed. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. ascends to “that high state where. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. A. beyond history. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. to write presupposes already having seen. joys. images.”111 Unconscious of creation. 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. Naturally.
who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. though too often they have not kept faith . the creation of poetry in A. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. and song. perhaps surprisingly. Yeats. A. gone inward into itself. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. E. analyzes the movement of consciousness. recognized his limits.”116 Still. A. Yet A. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. “I have. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets.”117 For this reason. the poet. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. E. even if unaware of precisely how or why. and after that images. as Ishtar in the Chaldean myth had crown and scepter and the royalty of her robes taken from her when descending from heaven to earth. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. “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. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. later discussed with W. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. E. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. was later translated into words. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. it draws nigh to its own divine root. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. looks upon the poet as a prophet.” Thus. E.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound.”115 He understood something of the psyche.”114 A far exile from that glory. A. There was neither sight nor sound. but of the universal spirit he understood little. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche.”113 This movement of consciousness A.” he wrote. B. but all was a motion in deep being. from a descent after an ascent.” he wrote. E. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. E. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. E. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. A. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature.
we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. In Christian theosophy. But at times they still receive the oracles. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. E. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. .150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . Thomas Bromley. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. 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. may. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. and they wove into drama or fiction. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. A. And A. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other.”121 These insights of A.” The psyche. . In essence. E. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. or division into self and other. E. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. they come “trailing clouds of glory. as did the sybils of old. Throughout our investigations. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. without knowing it. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. . characters they had never met in life. for instance. 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. when it becomes truly self-conscious. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. when we seem most alone. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. E. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation.” And there is more. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. the view of literary creation that A. in that solitude we may meet multitude. the further we come out of the animal Nature. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual.
In the first case. and we must. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. In Bromley’s case. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. there also is participation in what is observed. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. One becomes what one sees. and so requires our sympathetic participation. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. as if we knew them as neighbors. in A. and the world is shot through with light. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. Of course. in the latter case. In this realm. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. E. the poet is more like a receiver. the book or work has been separated from its writer. a novel. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. E. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. at least temporarily. and nearer both to Heaven. or of Captain Ahab.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. events. for instance. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. Reading.’s case. passive. like theater. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. One experiences great bliss. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. as if by happenstance. and taken on a kind of life of its own. and between the models that they represent. For who. or drama. symbols. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. although there is still an observer and what is observed. Likewise. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. fiction. We are carried along on the words of the author. E. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. and experiences. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. where. But nonetheless. the author also is not directly present. say.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. which later emerge in poetry. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. in between both author and reader.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. more powerful. absorbed completely in a book. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. and to one another in the Internal. which no earthly Distance can hinder. by A. on the other a visionary poet. irrespective of time or distance—and A.
and books. By contrast. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. writing. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. fiction. For when a reader engages in a literary work. our authors tell us. 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. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. 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. We see this in the Book of Revelation. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. or to have it stricken. for example. 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. drama. symbolizes eternal conditions. playing for keeps. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. and in Kabbalistic practice. we might reverse the terms. the visions of the theosophers are real. habitual self is gone. magic is real. . This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. Perhaps. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. The difference. essays. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. presumably. and one has entered a new world. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. Of course. of course. whereas the esotericist is. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. Ordinary. And indeed. in alchemical work. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. We see this also in the insistence of Böhme that one must read his work with an attitude of humility and reverence for the divine or suffer lasting consequences by stirring up wrathfulness in one’s consciousness. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. one turns away from the painting. existing in a supraphysical dimension. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. but eventually puts the book down. and one enters into the new birth. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too.
Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. Thomas Bromley. R. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. the alchemist. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. is to attain paradisal immortality. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. but what came into existence through him. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing.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. the Kabbalist. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. so too is the author. fiction. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. John Pordage. Johannes Tauler. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. But fundamental questions remain. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. R. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. If a primary aim of the alchemist. lives on. but there is much more to be done. Ramon Lull. and may even connect profoundly with each other. Jacob Böhme. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. Secret Societies. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. the gnostic. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. their works like second nature. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. or Kabbalists—by self-election. Abraham Abulafia. the Kabbalist. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. Yet at the same time. in the process of creating a fictional world. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. Nicholas . Meister Eckhart. the literary work. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. gnostics. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. Jane Leade.
154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. 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). a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. esoteric or not. And perhaps all forms of Western literature.124 The Ungrund. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. but in every case. to be guided by the author. in the . and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. “add it to his own arsenal of power. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. Berdyaev tells us. to in Emerson’s words. the author is reaching out. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. precedes all being. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. 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. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism.” It may well be. 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. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. literature. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. for as I have discussed elsewhere. and indeed even God himself. In being. 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. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. moreover. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. therefore. and consciousness. taken together. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space.
fictional. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. As Berdyaev points out. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. and therefore of division. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition.” and “is the beginning of a different world. particularly the arts of literature. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. Nishitani Keiji. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. and its expression in human creativity. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. of creativity. 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. 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. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. or to put it another way. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. the artist. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. “it is an end of this world. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. a different sort of knowledge. It is knowledge. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. the artist. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. issues from existential eternity. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms.” he writes. and especially on the . in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. “Creative activity. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions.
This intensifies our narcissism. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. . self-centered consciousness. While this is our own act. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. or “true emptiness. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. and has the effect not of separating. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. As we have seen throughout this study. egoistic mode of being. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. emerges authentic freedom.” Authentic freedom is.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. the choices of the will. .”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. In Nishitani’s work. in other words. one retreats into self even further. what is the same thing.”128 True emptiness. or the emptiness of all things. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. Nishitani. As rational or personal beings. or rather in unison. and indeed. for faced with nihility. is beyond definition. . . in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. . Out of this transcendence alone. Nishitani affirms. or perhaps better still. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. it is not something we are free to do as we please .156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. This is the field of shunyata. self-identically. of course. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. 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. “an equality in love.” an “absolute openness. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. The force of destiny is at work here. that is. and us from them. . it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. What . we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond.
a calling toward what we are meant to be. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. anything that can be read or written. The Western esoteric traditions. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. language is indeed divine. with nature. as the sense of self and other diminishes. political. . Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. seen as a whole.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. Paradoxically.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. including paintings. so Western esotericism suggests. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. for all their diversity. 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. joined together with one another. have at their center this mystery of the word. write and are written. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. or even linguistic construction. It can lead us. We read and are read. But in any case. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions.
esoteric. For an overview of Western esotericism. See Hanegraaff. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. 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. Faivre. See Steven Katz.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. 2.org. the official Web site of the ASE. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York 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. a Dutch scholar. See www. 3. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism.. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. 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.esoteric. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210.edu. See also the journal Esoterica [www. 1994). in this field. ibid. 4.edu ] for articles.msu.msu. 1992). whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. ed. mostly by North American scholars. see Antoine Faivre. See Arthur Versluis. much of it in French. 159 . 5.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. including Wouter Hanegraaff. and readers would do well to become familiar with it.aseweb.
Gnosis and Literature (St. E. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. 1863). 1996). Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. ed. 140. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. 2000). Ramon Lull. in Arthur Versluis. See. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. p. Paul: Paragon House. . Jean La Fontaine.. 145.. Mircea Eliade. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. pp. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 11. 1978). Translation is mine. 111. pp. 10. See Frederick Goldin. pp. 3. Sophia. pp. 180. Nag Hammadi Library. p. p. See Faivre. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. 223. 2. 6. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. Paul: Grail. p. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. 248. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. See Gershom Scholem. See Charbonneau. 1974). pp. 309. p. 1991). Paragon House. 76–106. 219–233. p. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter.. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. 2000). 4. 12. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin.. 14–21. p. 14. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. 4. CHAPTER TWO 1. See Arthur Versluis. 1973). 9. pp. 7. 2000). 1986). (London: Sheldon. See Versluis. 1999). 3. John Pordage. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. 5. 5. Victor Sogen Hori. Nag Hammadi Library. whether they know it or not. Myths. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. p. 51–89. CHAPTER ONE 1. Peers. 151. 10–15. 97. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. pp. trs. 8. p. cit. Paul: Grail. see also Scholem. 307. 1975). Paul. 13. pp. 18 ff. 1992).. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. eds. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. pp. 83 ff. See ibid.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. See Versluis. 1965). Ibid. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. Dreams.. 2. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. 37 ff. op.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6.
Zohar IV . 34. p. p. C. 197. 19. Origins. 13.77. 1983). p. 298 ff. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1969). 280.. Tristan. Ibid. 28. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. Cassirer.. 1986). ed. in The Zohar. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. I. 33. 1992).325. ed. 37. Doctor Illuminatus. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. 394. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. 20. p. M. 270. 101–102. 1965).71. Joseph Blau. 29. p. Ibid.. et al. 1961). Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. 14. 21. 26. 51. Twersky. 66. 38. p. 12. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.205b.205b–206a. See Mark Verman. 30. Gershom Scholem. Ibid. p. See Scholem. II.. Ibid. I....351. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. 17. Dan. 22. see also Scholem.. ed. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press.. 278. p. p.331. op. 23. Origins.. 59. 1985). (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ibid. 16. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. Vasoli. trs. (London: Soncino. I. 1779). 31.. op.. Opera omnia. Ibid. p. 29. 52. 61. trs..320–323. 7. Ibid. A. 1964). 1979). II. Ibid. cit. ed. Ibid. Ibid. pp. ed. Ibid. I. 197.76.. II. p. 250. 10. Bonner. 36. See Moshe Idel. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. cit. See A.. 57. 1987). (Hildesheim: Olms. 1984). Ibid. see also Moshe Idel. 57. p. Scholem. eds. 1953) I.. I. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations.. cit. op. 11. 8. p. See Verman.75. Cassirer. 25.. I. I. IV .C. 246. p.. 35. See.314. pp. Ibid. 24. 1988). 15. p. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. See J. See Pico della Mirandola. 27. II. p. See Arthur Edward Waite. 18.80 ff. 9. 32.. for instance. Ibid. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins.B. Ibid. . Simon. 49–50.. See Verman.312.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. and Françoise Secret.. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. Origins. p.
and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. 238. 45. Ibid. 129.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest.A. From von Welling. 220. . ed. for the reader’s convenience. op. 61. (Cassel: Wessel. 48. 1615). 56. Ibid. Josten. 52. 252. p. 49. 242. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. forthcoming.. Secret Societies. See Versluis. 22.. p.A. 62. p. Yates. See Frances Yates. Ibid. 40.P. 246. Fama.. ms. a musician. and even chart them astrologically. p. Confessio.. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. in a group called the Round Table. Freemasonry. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. Confessio. p. 1972). 58.M. p. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. University of Texas at Austin.. 77. 41. p. p. table of contents. Ashmole. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . See Josten. 59.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39.O... 37.77. p. 46. 260. . p. 53. Confessio.M. 44. cit. See Versluis. diss. Ibid.. See. Ibid. a cosmologist. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. Ashmole. p. . Frances Yates.O. I. See also Marsha Schuchard. 67. Confessio. 221. . 1997). 253. 1998). (Cassel: Wessel. p... Ibid. The following page references are to Yates. p.. including two physicists. 255. C. p. William Huffman. Ibid. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation.D. I. II. p. 51.. The Alchemy of Art. See Versluis. p. 1975). 55. Theatre of the World. p. 49. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. Ibid.. 63. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 371. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. Fama. 43. Fama.. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. 60. Resicrucian Enlightenment. 251. Hall. D. 1999). Ibid. 47. 1971). M. 50. p. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon.. Ibid.. 241.681. see Donald Dickson. a theologian. H. der gantzen weiten welt . 57. and also written an extensive commentary on it. for text. Ibid. Fama. Ibid. ed. and others. 257. 54. 1988). See. . 1966). (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. Ibid. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. p.. I have translated this work of Pordage. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. 42. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates.102–104. 1784). for background.
ed. 1734). 417. 11. 66–67. Ibid. pp. 2002). Religion. the Reformation. (London [Philadelphia]: B. changes. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. op. 162–168. Charge I. 1985). 67.. Ibid.. 4. Ibid. 1997). 3. S. 6. . The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1952). Ibid. 170–171. Ibid.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. V de L. 65. 39. 253. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. 9. Mazet.” 99–134. 172–173. p. p. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. cit. 256. Warlick. regulations . . (New York: Crossroad. 66. p.. 414.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. M.. A. Ibid. 240. pp. Milosz. See also Bernard Fay. E. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. Ibid. M. p. Revolution and Freemasonry. Ibid. 2001). p. O.. ed. See M. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. 257–272. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. Brown. See Dickson. . Franklin. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. pp. 10. Sloane. 71.. citing B. Paul: Grail. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. pp. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). pp. H. On Emerson and Hermeticism. See also Schuchard. see also Max Ernst. 247–249. Faivre. and Margaret Bailey. Hugh Trevor-Roper. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. See James Anderson. 7. 69. See Edmond Mazet. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. 1967). 68. p. 5. 8. 170–171. D. p. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press.. 1997). Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. 268.. 191. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. and Albert Cherél. pp. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. 110. 1926). The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 1992). 1992). 2. see Versluis. p. p. pp. Freemasonry. See George David Henderson. 654. 1948). 409. 1935). 70. CHAPTER THREE 1. p. .
Ibid.. 248. pp. Milosz. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. 226–227. 157–206. Ibid. Ibid. 299–300. pp. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. Ibid. 34.. 35. D. trs. 178–179. p. 21. op. 174–175. 455.. 37. p. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. 15. Scott. D. pp. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p.. 180–181.. 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. 158). p. 224–225. Milosz. 22.. 17. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. Ibid. pp. Ibid. I. 296. p. cit. See Versluis. 300. 465.. For a more extensive study. 19. . p. cit. Ibid. Ibid. 18. pp. p.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. I. 39. See W.. 210–211. 30.. 303. of course. 2001). Ibid. see Versluis. 36. 297–298. 1996). Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. ed. 204–205.1 ff. Ibid. 16. op. pp. Milosz. p. 31. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 8–9. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 1989). 206–207. 464. introduction by Albert Gelpi. Ibid.... the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. pp. 1994). 23. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. Susan Friedman. pp. Ibid. Ibid. D.. See Versluis.. Ibid. Ibid. pp. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. 48–52. pp. Friedman writes that “From her [H. pp. 1982). 38.. pp. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. 24. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate .” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. Ibid..164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. op. . cit. 28. Ibid. Ibid.115. 1985). pp. Ibid. 469. 29. 27.. For the poet of the modernist era..’s] perspective. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. see Steven Bullock. Milosz. 40. The question. 14. 25.. 1981). p. H. 41. Lib. . 20. p. 33. 32.. 299. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones.. 26.. 277. 182–183. pp. 13. Ibid.
see also. 35. H. 50.. 39.. for documentation. These passages were transcribed by H. ed. H. 33. Ibid. other authors we could consider here. p. Ibid. D. 9. p.. 168.” 1. Ibid. 21. See H. hereafter cited as TG. p. H. Ibid. 157. “The Walls Do Not Fall. Ibid. Futurism. Kathleen Raine. 67. Ibid. p. 48. Ibid.. 47. 52. 70. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. 1967). Ibid. 64. 259. See H.. 66. 68. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. Ibid.. 55. 222.. 58. 169. There are.. Ibid. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). 53. pp. 21.. 13... p. D. 63. 284–285. “Notes. See M. D. Georg Heinrich Loskiel.. 46.. 24. 50–51. 49. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. 1998). D. 45. “Tribute to the Angels. Ibid. Ibid.. as well as this entire collection of articles. 66. and I certainly recommend her article. 20. Ibid. E. pp. 72. 1.. Ibid. 23. rpt. “Walls. 65. Social Realism” in B.. The Gift. p. p.” pp. 43. 56. pp. 29. 50. 44. 18.. pp.. Ibid. chief among them Gustav Meyrink.. D. 223. Rosenthal.. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. 1997). Ibid. 74... D. 1989)... See. 2001). D..NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. 75. p. 102.. Rimius. 57. Kraus. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . 271–272. 70. See Jane Augustine. Ibid. 165. 61. 225–246. Irina Gutkin. 1988).. 62. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 67. Ibid.” 17. 17–19. 69. p. ed. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. 32. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 73.. Ibid. 20. of course.. 59. 156–159. p. 51. 71. Warlick. Ibid..” on which see TG. Ibid. p. The Gift. Ibid. 60. 19. H. 154–155. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. p.” 30–31. 54.
. p. See for instance. 87. S. 320. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. 382. pp. 1997). 87. 40. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. 85. 103.. Ibid. Meditations. cit. E.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). Collins. noted hereafter as Vision. 78. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. Yeats. 291. Ibid. Gareth Knight. Ellis and W. Southey. Ibid. The Works of William Blake. 124–125. 102. p. Vision. 84. 93.. 90. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. The Magical World of the Inklings.. p. p. 101.. retained his magical regalia in his office. Dion Fortune. 43. 1990). 10. C. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). cit. 97.. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. Ibid. 95. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. p. 98. Ibid. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. cit. 102. S.. 1994). 40. 21. p. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. The Secrets of Dr. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. 322. hereafter noted as Meditations. Ibid.. p. p. p. 154. Dion Fortune.).. 89. so I have decided not to include them here. p. p. Ibid. 79. 1994).). Poems.25. Ibid. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 95. 88. C. 77. 104–104. Dion Fortune. 197. 94. 88.. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. op. Ibid. op. n. 76. Letters from England (London: Longman. B. 127. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. 99. Lewis. 112. 96. 1814). 323. Faivre. p. p. pp. . pp. p.. including Fortune’s. Gareth Knight. Ibid. p.. 80. 81. 20–21. Lewis. 239. Faivre.d. (London: Quaritch. See on this point.. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. Ibid. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. pp. 1993). See Collins. 92. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. Collins. p.. 115. 83. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. pp. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire.. Fortune. 101. Ibid. 1893). p. 1988) p. Vision. See Antoine Faivre. 3 vols. 91. p. I. 82.. 70–71. p. Ibid.. ed. 100.. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. and Meditations. 82–83. 91. op. 1994) p. 86. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed.
123. Irina Gutkin. Ibid. 74.D. p. pp.. Toronto: 1948). Nicholas Berdyaev. 170.. 285.” in B. p. Ibid. 112.31. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. 106. pp. p. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.. See. trs. p. E. 25 ff.. Ibid.” 108. pp. Ibid. Ibid...... Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. p. 124. 40. IV . p. 108 ff. 1958). Ibid. 1994).. 117. II. Ibid. 94.. 62–63. Ibid. I added the colors. pp. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. 40 and pp. Knapp. p. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. “Warnung an den Leser. 71 ff.. 95. See Charles C.1. Christosophia IV .. p. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. Ibid. Socialist Realism. 113. Nishitani Keiji. for example. Ibid. 1957). 111. 39. Freedom and the Spirit. 1980). p. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 93.1 ff. 121. 105. p. 126. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. Ibid.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. See Versluis. 127. 1978). Diss. p. p. p. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). . 199.31..29–30. Ibid. Futurism. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). Christosophia. 120. 114. pp. 110. 118.” and I. 103. Peter Erb. 63. Versluis. “Vorrede. p.. 122. 107. 105.. 128. 109. 1997) p. Ibid.. 116. 78. forthcoming.. p. 225. 275 ff. 130. Ibid. Ibid.. 125. 62.. A. p. 119. 194 ff. Rosenthal. I. See also The Destiny of Man. 129. 106. ed. 115. Ibid. 1991).
Arthur. William. 28–29. 1 Collins. 89.INDEX Abulafia. 28. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 96 Dee. 78. 22 Cordovero. 76 Buddhism. Tibetan. 152 Brahe. 57. 1. 94. 53. 28. Franz von. 63 Anderson. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 138 Basilides. 2. 80 Böhme. 25 Apuleius. Heinrich Cornelius. 20. Elias. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 25 Ashmole. 42. 68–71. 147 Buddhism. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 68. 59 Dante. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 129–135 Comenius. William. 77 Bromley. 27–28. Abbot. 81–82 Descartes. Tycho. 4. 129. 94. Henry. 52. 56 Art. 5. 129. Jacob. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 81 Bruno. 63. 46 Christ. 80–82 Astrology. 56 Bahir. 53 A. 140. 53. 5. ix. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 66 Corbin. 45 Chaucer. Sir Thomas. Thomas. 95. initiatory nature of. 99 Dickinson. 90. John. 96 Berdyaev.. 24. 14. 80. Emily. 141 Agrippa. 30. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 72 Consciousness. 47. 11 Dury. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 35–43. 154 Book of Life. Francis. 57 Beatrice. 148 Barrett. 81–82 Dee. 82–83 169 . 154 Dogen. 40 Bible. 61–62. Giordano. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 56 Amor Proximi. 75 Chivalry. 17 Blake. 28. 24. 2 Aurea Catena. 139. Geoffrey. James. 79 Backhouse. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 150 Browne. 51. 10. 40–41. 5. 55–67. 81. 64. 148–150 Alchemy. 102. Moses. John. 82 Bacon. Cecil. John. 137 Boethius. 93. 141–142. 56 Baader. 93. 31 Cloud of Unknowing.E. 97. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. René. 31. 78. 59. 143–144. 97 Cremer. Nicholas. 142. 75. Abraham. Roger. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 18.
52–54 Kabbalah. 83. 127 Loskiel.S. 104. 89–103 Hermetism. Herman. Brian. 40 . Margaret. 1 Keeble. Désirée. 57 Eleazar of Worms.. 109 Hermeticism. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 21 Heydon. 30. 56 Maier. ix. 123. Francis. 57–59. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 127 Frankenberg. 138 Katz. Jewish. Meister. 153–154 Eriugena. 12–15. 109. 126. 120. 50. Christian. Max. 51 Islam. 89.. Joseph Edward. Gareth. 112 Imagination. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 153 Homer. Book of. 50. 75. 77 Flamel. 79–86. 111 Emerson. Samuel. 88-89. 2. 68. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. Michael. 46–52. 102 Leade. Edward. Jane. 63. 76. 22–24 Initiation. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance.S. 104. 1. 90. 129 Kelley. 84. 10–12. 101 Freemasonry. 56. 137 Goethe. Dion. 18–21.170 INDEX Eckhart. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 5. 21–22 Hermetica. 80–81 Fortune. Edmond. 8. Ralph Waldo. 78 Gnosis. Victor Sogen. 103 Fuller. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 77 Gelpi. 19 Faivre. 102 Lee. Georg Heinrich. 31 Melville. 56 Fludd. Joseph de. 2. 29 Mazet. 151 Merswin. Rulman. 69 Franklin.. Jewish. 97. 5 Hori. 99 Grail cycle. 82–83 Heidegger. 29 Hiram. 8–9 Larronde. 122 Koan. 21. 22. T. 26–31. Ramon. 7–8 Esotericism. John Scotus. 9 Eliot. 28. 89. Mircea. Carlos. 36–39 Gutkin. 2. Albert. 140 Hippolytus. 11 Hutton. 101–102 Frey. 42. 9. 111 Geheime Figuren. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 106 Eschenbach. Wolfram von. 84 Lewis. Steven. 104. 7–8. 2. 103–119 Hardenberg. 123–126. 103. Johann Wolfgang. 107. 139 H. 100. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. Nicholas. Benjamin. Martin. Susan. Jean. 53. 82 Knight. 105. Johann Georg. 25 John. 54. Irina. 56 Jerusalem. 95 Hartlib. 35. 46. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 120–122. 102 Ernst. 112 Friedman. 104 Gichtel. 19. 105 Eliade. ix. 100 Marcus. 27–28 Gnosticism. Robert. Antoine. 89. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 4. 112 Lull. 44. 65. 55 Koran. 43–45. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. C.D. 140 La Fontaine. 19–21. 100 Hirst. Johannes. Abraham von. 76 Maistre. John. Andreas. 25 Hinduism. 72–73 Faust. 19.
Christian. 25. 84 Pordage. 37–38 Pascal. 21. 110 Southey. 115.. 5. 123 Poimandres. 19. 4 Shakespeare. Samuel. 139 Saint Martin. 48 Mysticism. Jean. 71–76 Rousseau. Rainer Marie. 87–88. Sir Walter. Marguerite. John. 29 Pre-Socratics. 138 Stellatus. 69. Joseph. 103. Bernadette. 90 Porete. Johann Christoph. 57. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 92. 69. 94. 115. 99. 120. 154–156 Norton. Czeslaw. 40 Milosz. 105. 103. 2. 5 Minotaur. Kathleen. Paulus. 26–27 Moravians. 103 Pyrlaeus. 63. 9. 32. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 56. 51. Thomas. 19. 14–15. 18. 99 Philip. 47. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 90. 76 Parzival. 53 Rilke. 137. 39–40 Solovyov. 4 Reuchlin. 87–88. ix. Vladimir. 60. 75–78 Paracelsus. 99 Pasqually. 26 Tolkien. 52 Piers Ploughman. 79. 114–115 Thenaud.R. 67–69.. Johannes. Henry. 17. 89. 152 Richter. 99. 46. 116 Self. 23–26. 58 Numbers. 32 Plato. Johannes. 2. 140 Tauler. 90 Talmud. 21 Poiret. J. 99 Prospero. 79. Martinez de. 8 Rosicrucianism. 115 Pythagoras. 47–48. 84 Reading. 140 Templars. O. Gustav. 90 Milosz. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. Louis-Claude de. Jean. Robert. 53. 56 Swedenborg. William. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 108. 89–103. 56 Moses de Leon. 140 Tao te ching. John. 74. 92. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 53 Theosophy. 73. 70. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 52 Pansophy. 50 Schuchard. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 2 Postel. Emanuel. 150. 52–53 Revelation. 68. 108 Rimius. 148 Platonic archetypes. Gillaume. 105. Blaise. Marsha Keith. 112 Ripley. Book of. Gershom. 53 Theseus. 56 Origen. 11 Russian literature. 112–113 Morienus. René. 152 . 14. 18. 63 Rici. sacred. 119 Raleigh. 64. Milton. George. 109. 113. Andrew Michael. 76 Sufism. 116 Nature [concept of]. 66 New Age.V ix. 13. 59. 36. 46. 40 Raine. 141 . 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. Gospel of. 148 Radical ecology. 148 Seidel. 99 Scholem. 85. 64 Roberts.R. Pierre. 118 Ramsay. 43 Synesius. 5. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 92. 136 Science and objectification.
W. 9. 63. 89. 64. 35–43 Ungrund. 106 Washington. 55.. Charles. David. 2. 111. 103.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. ix.. 103. 103.E. 104. M. 48. 110. Jean-Baptiste. 56 . 10. 101 Weishaupt. 156 Zinzendorf. 140 Valentinus. Arthur. 112–113 Zohar. 120. 31 Viterbo. 53 Versluis. 67–69 Upanishads. 84 Williams. ix. 111 Warlick. 86 Welling. 82 Troubadours. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. Hugh. Georg von. 148 Zen Buddhism. 148 Zosimos. 79 Willermoz. 10. Nicholas. 10. Frances. Adam.B. 88. 137. 116 Yates. George. Egidio Cardinal. 75 Yeats. 122–123 Williamson.
(Leuven: Peeters. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www.. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. Imagination. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. 1956). 1994). 1998). 2000). Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. Earlier. 2 vols. 2001). 1998).org. Theosophy. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. An exceptionally wide-ranging book is Wouter Hanegraaff ’s New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press. eds. 1992). Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press.esoteric. 1975). (Graz: Akademische. Gnoses. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. 1992). 1998).aseweb. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. along with its companion book.msu.
Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. Paul: Paragon House. 1994). 2002). edited by Brian Keeble. Gnosis and Literature (St. . 1999). Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1996). This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St.174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. 1996). 2001). Paul: Grail. and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 2000). Paul: Grail.
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