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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. Art. Literature. and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s .
3. For information. address State University of New York Press. Laurie Searl Marketing. 2. art. Suite 700. BF1411. paper) 1. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. Occultism—History.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. mechanical. Title. I. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. literature. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. NY 12207 Production. Series. Occultism in art. magnetic tape. Anne M. recording. Authur. Albany. II. 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. Occultism in literature.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. 90 State Street. electrostatic. photocopying.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. p. cm.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
Pansophic. Rosicrucian.Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 .
Art.viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .
H. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. Lewis. At the very least. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. O. ix . C. At the suggestion of an early reader. 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. D. and consciousness itself. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. figures. but the work’s focus remains Western. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. In writing this book. literature. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. S. but in keeping with my original impetus.. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. traditions. V.P re f a c e Restoring Paradise began as an introduction to the literary and religious history of Western esotericism and was meant for a general audience. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. Hence. but as the book took shape. 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. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. art. Milosz.
D. xi .D. Poems. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. and to Studies in Spirituality.. 1985).). Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. each of whom helped to make it a better work. 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. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 2001). copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. V. from Trilogy. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble.). including the adapted cover illustration. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. 1997). Milosz. de L. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. 1994) and Meditations. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. from Trilogy. (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 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.D.
A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. artistic. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. and metaphysical or transcendent. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. figures. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized.1 Here.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. Yet for this to take place. and perhaps even more critically. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. provoking. In this book. mutually 1 .3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. but also. literary. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. and one that has ramifications in many directions. even apophatic mysticism. are now appearing.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. These are not. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). or conveying spiritual experiences. how esotericism is transmitted in the West.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. religious. however. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. and otherwise. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. the study of mysticism. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets.
even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. however. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. do have certain characteristics in common. above all this is a book about knowing. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. that is what this book is about. examples of it include alchemy. Here. however disparate. and social histories. But the time for such biases is past. Christian theosophy. Christian gnosis. Rather. mysticism. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. Jewish Kabbalah. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. astrology. or gnosis. astrology. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. of course. In essence. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. Rosicrucianism. including alchemy. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. Freemasonry. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. provoke. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. magic. theosophy. Yet these traditions. In particular. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. or Hermeticism. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. it is to consider the complex ways that language and image have worked and continue to work in both Western and Eastern traditions in order to generate. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. this must be our primary focus. religious. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. philosophical. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. Like the koan. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. Undoubtedly. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. or convey spiritual awakening. and about how we come to know. Not at all. left out of literary. .2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. magic.
nature. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. . or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. and to alternative forms of spirituality. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. our time resembles the early Christian era. At the same time on the religious front. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. Thus. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. which is often seen either as outdated. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. To navigate one’s way through these movements. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. the Western esoteric traditions. a vast field. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. of course. when a panoply of religions. Western esotericism is. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. when we look at Western societies. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. therefore. And underlying these is. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. what their predecessors are. sects. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. proliferating wildly. in my view. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. For as we will see.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. and continuity of 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. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. In many respects. about reading the stars. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. By looking more closely at the origin.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. we find on the social front. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. and cults existed side by side. and to understand their patterns and meaning. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. and there are many treasures to be found there. despite their often almost bewildering variety. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity.
but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. and will require much elaboration.’ Unexamined here. The mystery of reading is. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. we enter into another’s world. but with consciousness itself. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. When we read a novel. also about union. we feel as someone else feels. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. 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. and each requires the other. The word gnosis. when we read the works of an Emerson. and heaven. If there are great writers.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading.’ itself a metaphor for our time. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. why do we travel with . but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. 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. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way.’ that is. reading here guides one toward gnosis. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. refers to spiritual knowledge. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. and ultimately with the divine. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. Likewise. What is more. or spiritual knowledge. in other words. In every experience of literature. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. purgatory. we have developed machines that ‘read. is much deeper than it might at first appear. minerals and stars. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. however. By contrast. imaginatively enter into different lives. of course. And when we read a great poem. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. but can be transmuted. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. Greek in origin. so too there are great readers. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead.
fiction. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. and where we are going. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now .” 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. where we are from. This experience of union between author and reader I have alluded to is a literary and secularized form of what we find in Western esotericism. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. We make connections. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. like so many others. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. and when we read them.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. Rather. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. we understand. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. and essays. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. not about accumulating more information. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. 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. drama.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. What is more. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding.
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. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. Those studying the humanities. In this respect. everything. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. living divorced from humanity. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. the way we see the world. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. and everything becomes a matter of techné. one based not on division but on union. but also the even more primal act of knowing. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. 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. including people. as if catalogic. grounded in spirituality. but for connection and union. nature. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. people most of all. and particularly literature. By contrast. quantitative. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. Certainly Western esoteric traditions were prevalent at the beginning of the modern era: contemporaneous with the emergence of modern rationalist science were completely different kinds of sciences. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . from which we believe that we are separate. indeed. or manipulation. finally. it suffuses our language.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. most notably Western esoteric traditions. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. and the divine. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms.
In Western Europe. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. crystals. 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. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism.6 Subsequently. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. and consciousness. works. . 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. But the fact remains that there are also figures. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. and so to maintain clarity. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. And in North America as well. Dutch scholar Wouter Hanegraaff demonstrated that late twentiethcentury New Age movements and individuals (at least the somewhat less intellectually frothy) were frequently indebted to earlier currents of Western esotericism. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. and groups in Western European and North American history. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. so too that choice still exists today. and so forth.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. alone with an author. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. however. The reader. literature. And indeed. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions.
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say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.
I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual
admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an
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emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-
but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. . and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization.” 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. through language and image. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . not beyond it. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. 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. 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. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. however.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. From this viewpoint. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. 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. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. I believe. in his Shobogenzo. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. At one time. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality.”11 This is. but into conventional consciousness . The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. then it is a breakthrough not out of. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. . If kensho is the realization of nonduality. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity.
esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. frustrating though this may be. and thus also to the individual. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. I believe. as I will propose here. By . nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. as means of initiation. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. for that matter. as in individual daydreams. 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. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic.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. I am arguing that in the West. Rather. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. What makes Western esotericism different above all. 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. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. Rather. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. 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. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. This is not to say that the West had or. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. Like the koan. 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.
Obviously. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. literary or otherwise. guide. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice.12 As a result.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . For instance. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. it is not for a general readership.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. Imagination. For example. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. in other words. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. the action by the act of reading or viewing. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. This work is circumscribed. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. it is for the few. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. 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. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. the images. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly.
For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. 2. who enter into a work imaginatively. and 3. When Jacob Böhme wrote that his writings were not for those hostile to them (who would be better off not looking at them at all) he meant that the works are indeed esoteric. but here a new magical earth is brought . of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. graspable solution to a koan. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. and nothing less. 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. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you.14 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E enter into the work and imaginatively undergo the process of awakening to the hidden realm that he is describing. Sympathetic readers. and this too presents problems. which is what I am proposing here.’ only that one has to make the effort to understand an esoteric work as much as possible sympathetically from an imaginative entry into its realm. But there is a third perspective.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. Initiates. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. 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. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. Yet if we answer “yes. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing.” The gnostic. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. in other words. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. not one’s own. to understand them.
The realm of the imagination. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. but resides in a continuum between the two. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. .INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. 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. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. This. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. then. to the divine power within that creates. In other words. What is more. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. in sum. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. is by its very nature one of co-creation. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. 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.
Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. death. and resurrection. From relatively early on. Here. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. we must begin in antiquity.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. The other kind of writing. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. is profoundly different. This. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. needless to say. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. the Book of Revelation. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. however. and. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. And to find these themes. what we may call a 17 . 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. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ.
In Christianity. legal. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. for instance. symbolic. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. and on the other. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. multilayered approaches. as throughout world religious traditions. we can see how anomalous it is. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. that one can easily list them. or technological. Consider. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. literal. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. Of course.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. By contrast. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. be it scientific. and mythic. the development of Buddhism. of course. expressing a view characteristic of the mysteries more generally when he had Socrates say that writing is problematic at best because the written word cannot explain itself and is easily subject to misinterpretation. revelatory emphasis. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. and indeed. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. on the other hand. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. the Word was not literal but spiritual. an ahistorical. The gnostics. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. or historical. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. . should it be ahistorical. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. so rare—in fact.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past.
but of communication. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. here it is vertical. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. asceticism. and who else was accepted as orthodox. and spiritual illumination. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. and whose primary emphasis was on morality.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. These vibratory seeds human beings may contact or activate through spiritual practice and in this way be in touch with the powers that inform creation itself. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. that is. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. true pronunciation. who are worthy of it. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. In general. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. For instance. but such an approach is not for everyone. one is in touch with inconceivable power. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. chiefly vowels. however much their literalist opponents think differently. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. and communion. just . Who was rejected as heretical. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. the seeds of all things. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. Likewise.
Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. which undoubtedly drew upon and incorporated elements of the Greek mystery traditions even as they differed from the Greeks in their emphasis upon writing down the mysteries and then writing down commentaries upon the previous writings. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. so the letters were altered. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. paradoxically conveyed often through . its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. such images represent divine aspects. 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. basilisks. through images. The letters. and so forth.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. and macrocosmically. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. and we may recall that Dionysius the Areopagite devoted some effort to discussing how the divine may best be symbolized by unexpected and even grotesque images that keep us from mistaking a beautiful image for the thing itself. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. Letters and numbers. we can see how these images fit rather well into the tradition: they represent again a means of invoking and ‘fixing’ the underlying powers or principles of creation itself. and so forth. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. and contain within them the seeds of the perennial struggle in all three forms of monotheism between those who take the word literally and those who advocate gnosis. are a means to creation’s redemption. as principles of creation itself. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. inconceivable power would be set loose.20 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E as Greek Christian mysticism drew upon Hebrew or Aramaic terms. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. as does the creation of images. but if the letters were properly restored. thereby making this conflict inevitable. 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. then. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images.
“there is communion between soul and soul. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). In at least some respects.25). These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. “I know what you wish. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues.” but not like an ordinary sleep. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. “for I am with you everywhere.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. is self-evident.” (X. of the mysteries tradition. but share elements in common with all three.” the “voice of the Light. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. presented in the form of dialogues. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum.” From the very beginning. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. in symbols and myths. letter. out of which emerges a “holy Word. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition.22b) . There is no one author of the Hermetica. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries.” the being. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. 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.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. Poimandres. number. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. in the first centuries of this era. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. which were also about death and resurrection. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. tells him. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries.
precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. Like Hermes himself. and there is a witness to the revelation. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. always there is a fluid. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. and . not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. It is. Platonism. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. Christian esotericism. yet not strictly philosophical either. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. Indeed. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. For from what we have said. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. 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.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. mercurial quality to it. or direct knowledge of the divine. they certainly intermingled. traditions. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. However. 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. then. and Hermetism. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images.” “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. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. the mystery traditions. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. what we find is something quite different.
and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. Although the vision has a beginning. And immediately I was in the spirit. beginning with the Revelation to John. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. and one sat on the throne. where John meets. apparently visionary time. he is told to eat. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. an elder tells him to weep not. once introduced to this sequence. when he weeps. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. Yet interestingly. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. a little book sweet as honey.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. quite well known. turned. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. or field of the imagination. and does eat. a mesocosm. and future are visible.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . However. and behold. when he eats the book. . It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. a door was opened in heaven. he sees the twenty-four elders. a throne was set in heaven. Then. and where the earthly past. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. off the Greek coast. mythology. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and only then. At one point. . after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. present. of course. and in the tenth chapter. questions. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. I believe that literature. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. John. but take place in their own time. There are. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. and he interacts with them. came the following: “After this I looked. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. Above all. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. and behold. Rather. and the auditory part of the vision began. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). in other words. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. in the fourth chapter. saw and heard these things. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice.
and by eating the book.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. And then there is. twelves. the Book of Revelation of St. Taken together. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. In the tenth chapter. there are “other books. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. But for our purposes. John is united with its knowledge. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era .9). it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. we will recall. and finds it bitter in his belly. One. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. 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). By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. of course. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. 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. in other words. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. and are in a sense initiates. angels. The Revelation. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. John is given a little book to eat. and Hermetism. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. the very book that we are reading. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality.12). John eats the little book: it becomes part of him.13). Additionally. becoming symbolically charged. Christian Gnosticism. all remind us of the prior traditions. which he does.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. Every aspect of life is altered.” during these the end times. but sweet as honey on his lips. found in Judaism. and one hundred forty-fours. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. of course. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. a gnostic encounter with elders.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20.
we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. it is an image. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. a hearer. and what is heard. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. 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 . Yet because it became canonical. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. seen by a seer. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. and of James and of Adam. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. the Ascension of Isaiah. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. Of course. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. where an encounter may take place. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. 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. words. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. splendid earthly form: but again. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. and what is seen. at the mystical tradition. including the two books of Enoch. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. profoundly symbolic numbers. all of which belong to the apocrypha. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. Rather. at the Kabbalistic tradition. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. At the same time. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism.
But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. to make it one’s own. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. So it is with the story of Theseus. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. we are drawn toward it. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. The analogy of electricity. objectifying it. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. as wild as the book of Revelation. of being charged.’ of participation. to the transcendent. ranging from external to internal. 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. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. without relevance to oneself. it is certainly not the only one. or from exoteric to esoteric. 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. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. a constellation of letters and numbers. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. 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. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. fascinated by its mysterious beauty.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. for although the Revelation is the most well known. Esoteric literature. often in a simple story. more electric. and exists more for entertainment. or put better. how hieroeidetic a work is. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. far more than may at first appear. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . And though we risk being burned. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. In other words.
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
we participate in what they represent. words. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. embody. but different aspects of the same way. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. or one will . between this world and the invisible realm of energies. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. sacred images. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. or aeon. which is of a totally different order. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature.”3 In other words. Indeed. 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. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. the first of which had four letters. and we enter into a realm where negation and affirmation are both recognized to be at once valid and invalid ways of expressing what transcends them both. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. 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. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. we become intimate with them. For instance. As we ‘read’ these images. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. in the Gospel of Philip. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. and reveal transcendence.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. This name was composed of four syllables. although we refer to them by the same names. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. and numbers emerge in.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. there is earthly marriage. not opposite or even complementary ways. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. and in religious experiences. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. VI. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. and its light “never sets. in dreams. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different.xxxvi). we find plays on naming and namelessness. and the entire name had thirty letters.
characteristic ways of understanding. 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. is. but its inseparable companion. but is free in life and in death. but rather. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. when one dies. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. one has already experienced the mysteries for oneself by ‘reading’ and receiving the truth in the images—not only the images of sacred words or symbols. The world has become the aeon. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. Here naming refers. The cosmos is no longer opaque. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. not hidden in the darkness and the night. The nameless and the named are not divided. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. for such a one the world is transparent. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. evokes. elusive. for the aeon is fullness for him. the unnameable. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. 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. divided consciousness. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone.”4 In other words. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. indeed. .ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. Rather. gnostic paradigms. not to arbitrary designations. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era.
a third characteristic. my dear brother. separated from the subject who sees. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. in his own degree. . which is the mystery of words and of the book. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. everyone. On the lowest level. of the different properties of beings. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. By contrast. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. . Regeneration alone shows us the ground. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. however. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. Out of the gnoses of numbers. including Piers Ploughman. whether visible or intellectual. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. nor wholly from without. woven together into a . as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. Here. on which conventional mathematics is founded. A fourth characteristic is imagery. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra.”6 There is in Saint-Martin’s work a peculiar kind of mystical mathematics from which it is evident that here is indeed an order of knowledge entirely different from the merely quantitative. to which I have already devoted some study. and therein we obtain the pure key. without masters. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. and are visible in major European literary works. They are only the sensible expression. letters. What is more. Even more intimately yet. of course. According to rational consciousness. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths.32 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E From the gnosis of naming emerges a range of related mysteries. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). which all proceed from the one only essence . of which the quantitative designation is a husk. More intimately.
as John ingests the little book in Revelation. . taken together. from antiquity to the present. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. in one form or another. words. Greek. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. numbers. letters. often do not hold at all. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. Jewish and Christian and Greek. Roman. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. to become it. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. 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. but also to convey it. images. Its mysteries of names. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. Egyptian. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. and traditions best express his understanding. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. Christian. 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. By following the courses of Western esotericism. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. whether. words. and images.
we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. sees her (or him. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable.2 H i s t o r i c a l C u r re n t s DIVINE SERVICE: C H I VA L R Y A N D T H E T R O U B A D O U R S It is. 35 . The troubadour. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. of course. The knight in swearing fealty to his lord is engaged in a social relationship that can also have spiritual implications: to act properly as a knight is also to fulfill one’s higher responsibility as a warrior for the divine. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. in giving honor to his beloved. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era.
or love’s faithful. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. Much more likely that here. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. is no. Instead. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. But when we look at these movements as a whole. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. likewise. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. 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. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. I think. that is to say. even surreptitious.E. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. . 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. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. particularly the chivalric tradition. for example. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. never explicitly discussing. Of course. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival.36 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Thus there is implicitly a dual quality to much of the writing associated with each of these traditions. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. One such group was the fedeli d’amore.
occupying a middle ground between these. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. but there is another source. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. . and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. and to whom God sends his angel. whence had come the Grail. and has a rich reward in heaven. then the chivalric life is his one desire. Naturally. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. but God may have taken them back. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. For instance. that is. we are told. worthy. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. noble angels. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. and this is the mystery of names. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. a hermit. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. Hearing this. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. For. there is no need to erase it. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. He found that a man named Flegetanis. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. those who did not take sides. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. In any event.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. for the name disappears. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. both pagan and Christian. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. teacher of Eschenbach. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself.
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.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. The Grail.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. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. Throughout the tale. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. in particular. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. we will recall. and at the end of the tale. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. of course. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. but also with the changing of the moon. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. Yet this implicit esotericism. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. of course. When inevitably she does so. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. 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. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. and that of all the Grail servers. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. He was to ask. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. then their sorrows would end. Rather. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . For instance. And at the book’s conclusion. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. remains this-worldly in emphasis. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted.” chiefly Saturn. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. like chivalric literature more generally. Saturn to suffering. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. and if he asked a Question. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. just as is Western esotericism more generally. and that is the exalted position of women. Parzival. the spotted knight. the knight is told by Feirifiz. entertaining. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. we are told to honor women. then naming them one by one in Arabic. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming.
All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . 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. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. the number of maidens serving the Grail.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. courtesy. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. the poem. At the end of Gawain. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. loving kindness. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. marking why Gawain is a fine man. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table find the story not only funny but so instructive that they all decide to wear a green girdle like Gawain’s. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. like Grail tales more generally. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. like several others in the poem. continence. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. and. he ultimately feels shamed. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. the five virtues. these being liberality. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. but with the five fingers.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. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. in the image of the pentangle. in Gawain as in Parzival. with the five wounds of Christ. of course. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. is marked with a tiny colored initial. and piety. Yet in the story’s conclusion. part of a tradition that. as I have elsewhere shown. This famous passage. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. the first is the true knot. Once again. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. And this green marks my second point of observation. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. When Gawain. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. Gawain’s symbol. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale.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. First.
valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. / And since talking directly can’t help us. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable.”] Or again. This same duality inheres in the color green. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. and the illicit. not monastic or priestly. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. the hidden divine messenger. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. like the chivalric orders. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). although a lay group. perhaps cunning can. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. Gawain. green is the color of nature.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. yet at the same time. growth. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. Or again. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. One does find esoteric themes. to be renewed.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms.4 But this secret language is that of lovers.” or “the Green Isle. yet it is also the symbol of new life. and renewal.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. pus nons val arditz.” The Friends of God were. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is.
HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. time. as does the play that we see here on naming. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. Dante sees Beatrice again. who lived during the fifth century. philosophical. but the faculty of imaginal perception. is a visionary poem. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. 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. in the ninth hour of the day. This is. Dante ends this strange work. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . like the great Divine Comedy. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. full of images. and words and ideas into the empyrean. and his commentary. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. with a final vision about which he will not now write. calls upon the “book of memory. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. of course. There is. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. as in the Divine Comedy. and exactly nine years later. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. In De consolatione. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. an intervening figure in the tradition. thrice-blessed Lady. albeit more literary. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. And of course. we end by passing beyond space. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. La Vita Nuova. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. Boethius. Thus Dante’s greatest works. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. poems. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. 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. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. of course. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. this time wearing a white dress. and here. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours.
One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. however. And these are evoked . also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. the theater of art.” Thus this tale.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. bareyne trees olde. especially of the knight for his lady. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. instrumentz. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. caroles. We see in Chaucer’s tale. daunces” around her.” and by “kervere of ymages. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. yet he went further. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. known as a primary literary figure in English history. 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. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). In the third part of The Knight’s Tale.” In that “portreiture. 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. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. knarry. above all. Here. 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. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. Chaucer was not an esotericist.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. Like Dante.” “gastly for to see.” with “festes. But all the same. and of divine service. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. Chaucer. here. with an oratory. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. Earthy. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions.
and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries.” are familiar to students of . and indeed. we are given the meditations of the hermit. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. and of course his most well-known and influential works. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. Ars brevis. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. Not surprisingly. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. In the ninety-ninth chapter. like Chaucer. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. but with the advent of rationalism. In fact. The lover answered. 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. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. was prolific. and Ars generalis ultima. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). one for each of the 365 days of the year. At this juncture. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. not just a set of correspondences. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. 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. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. troubadour. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. The Book of Contemplation. bringing together the chivalric. until he was thirty.” The Art represents. These terms. (a kind of chivalric code). Lull. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. and this is no accident. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. (part of his romance Blanquerna). the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. “knowledge” and “remembrance. given its astonishing scope. For although Lull. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. literature is not only entertainment. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life.
but for purposes of clarity. and profaning holy things with figures. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. The cosmos represents the divine writing.’”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. invoking evil spirits as good angels. Lull used more letters. since my Beloved contains all.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. and writings in themselves.” In this falsified knowledge. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. whose influence extended across Europe. west. we are also participating in this relationship. 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. he condensed his art into nine letters. north and south. and images. that is. most of all in the exposition of his art. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. Here we find a clear condemnation.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. as the readers of Lull’s book. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. and that is the book. However. images. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. ‘Yes. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. but of those done with the wrong attitude. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. not of figures. Of course. images. Further. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . Originally. and by writings. and writings. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. And through presumption. out of arrogance or presumption. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. By means of these letters. just as the writer is in his book.’ They asked him. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. all errors are implanted in the world. This extraordinary art.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. rather than my Beloved in the world. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him.
Of course his work is unique. God. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. triangles. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. B—Bonitas. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. and gluttony. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. For this reason. 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. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations.” C signifies “greatness. The Lullian art. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. justice. and so forth. and numerous other arrangements. found in the Ars compendiosa. Hence in many respects. At the same time. I— Veritas. For instance. In the full art. angel. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. difference. concordance. 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. . tables. 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. 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. B signifies. what?. E—Potestas. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. Lull himself combined them using circles. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. it includes and transcends logic. whether?. has vast implications. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. prudence. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. not least in its use of the combinations of letters.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. for instance. trees. and avarice. depending upon how the letters are combined. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. for example. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. “goodness. or that from the Ars brevis.
Rather. and Freemasonry. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. French. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely.or eighteenth-century German. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. . 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. 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. however. but what is more. Christian. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. It is. And as literature. Rosicrucianism. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. troubadour. intricately woven. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. but this is virtually never the case. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. of course. 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. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. the chivalric. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. In these traditions.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. or English gnostic.
E. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. terminology. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. . many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim.8 But for our purposes. But the Bahir.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. 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. disclosing them only in parabolic language. “The affinity with the language. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. number. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. 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. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. The book Bahir. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. Castile.” Scholem concludes. also may have roots elsewhere. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. for instance.9 Yet at the same time. and cosmogony. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. and thus Kabbalism. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. dating to the Talmudic period. For instance. and elsewhere in Europe. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. And in fact. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. and Kabbalism more generally. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir.
But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. For example. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). but another view. 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.” (that is.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. as a female is fertilized from the male. In section 124. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. which comprise a total of 613 letters. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. spiritual. 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.11 Of course. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. But in any event. supported by some contemporary testimony. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. caught up in the spirit. for example.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . informing the cultural.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. including the human body. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. and natural realms at once. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. 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. said to symbolize the abdomen. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. writing the Names of God) and through this power.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. the tonal accents.” Indeed.
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.” which may or may not itself be an “a. is allowed to ask questions. yet when these Names are removed. action . For instance. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. . . “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. or aleph.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. 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. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations.” about which no one. forty. out of it emerges the Names.”17 By investigation. from reading this extraordinary work. not even Moses. the essence of everything.” One can easily see. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. eighty. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. so to say. utterance.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. speech. Through this kind of multiplication. . the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. inquiry .” Thus we can see how by way of ascent through the Names one arrives at the hidden true nature of existence—and within this is the mystery of the a. all are found in this Name. we are told. and yod in turn becomes twenty. voice. in this context. . but My Face will not be seen. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. and 160. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. Here. the tenth letter.”18 This.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. corresponding to yod.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. whispering. in the Fountain of Wisdom. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. made transparent so . all comprehension and thought.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A.”14 In other words. an ¯ “ether.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life.
broadly speaking. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. ’En sof literally means “infinity. is not only cosmological.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. not from this side. then. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. including thought. 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. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. Indeed. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. Medieval Kabbalism. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. sometimes without. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. 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.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness.20 For that matter. but from the other. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. emerges. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. but also metaphysical.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. that of hardened or congealed materiality. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. as Scholem remarks. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors.50 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E that through them in the eye of imagination we can see the hidden principles and working of the cosmos itself. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. All of these exist.
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
represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. And when we look at Kabbalism. Spain. To such approaches. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. much less the possibility of transcendence. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. which is. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. that is. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. surface is nothing and depth is everything. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. and beauty. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. or vice versa. For Kabbalah. however unfamiliar to us today. where one finds literature and religion fused. or vice versa. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. . many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars.54 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E treatise on Cabala alluded to a Kabbalistic doctrine of universal restoration. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. But before discussing these implications. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. after all. Such an approach to literature. Here. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. intricacy. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. literature represents portals into the transcendent. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. that ultimately all beings will be saved. In the eighteenth century. In the twentieth century. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. Indeed. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. ramified throughout religious and literary history. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing.
because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. forces one to wrestle with it alone.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.’ yet not entirely Christian. as we saw earlier. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. alchemy. not entirely ‘pagan. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. to work it through. . especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. itself also highly literary: the koan. we cannot help but notice religious references. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. on the other transmitted by way of literature. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. Indeed. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. as the “art of Hermes. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. When we look at European alchemical works. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. Of course. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. However. To the first-time observer. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. So too. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. hence on the one hand religious. like the alchemical expression or riddle. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. Full of exotic images and peculiar language.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable.
or animal into its paradisal original true nature.E. a tradition transmitted through literature. Ramon Lull. be they in the mineral. 825–932 C. Thus. put another way. either. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. For alchemy extends into many realms. 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. even if its work resembles these in some respects. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus.. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. and takes place by way of fire. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. Synesius. George Ripley (fifteenth century). Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. Indeed. as has historical placement. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness.. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century).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.E. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. or al-Rhazi (ca. alchemical literature. at heart. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. After all. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present.E. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. the vegetable. and the spiritualizing of the body. in the revelation of paradise. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. and Morienus of the seventh century C. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). One places oneself in the line of what is. Roger Bacon. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. that is. even if it does not entirely belong to these. thirteenth century).—latinized as Rhazes). partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. . or the animal kingdom. the embodying of spirit. plant. 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. Olympiodoros. All of these authors did write on alchemy. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova.
His title. bracketed by mythological references.” In other words. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. and author Michael Maier. If thou knowest the substance and the method. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). and are to come. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. . we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. composer. Maier. physician. 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. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. in his preface. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. and gave it to us by mighty toil. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works.” that is. were.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. Here. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. it is enough. . as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . and thou knowest all. of course. . seek not many utensils for thy labor. Thomas Norton. which Vulcan cast into the sea. “The Golden Tripod. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. Indeed. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams.
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. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. being bereft of images . literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. on the far left side a single candle. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. a king and a queen. and the text tells us how at the end of the world.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. a half-naked man with a scythe. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. the Sun. over a fire.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. and this Mars has done. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. and that which is palpable. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. Shortly thereafter. is at once literary and practical. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. and to the queen’s left. while around him are various figures. as well as an angel blowing a horn. while the Moon. and proved of the greatest efficacy. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. to be invisible. that which is visible. to become impalpable . The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection.” pleads the case of her husband. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. .”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave.” With its spiritual essence. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. despite its elliptical means of expression. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. the king bearing a staff. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. in the background a dead tree stump. . Saturn wants to kill Mercury.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. the queen a three-flowered plant. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. before him a burning barrel. including two archers shooting at targets. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. Here you see the perfection of our Art.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. and a man sowing seeds.
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. we are told. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. 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. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. Such. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. Cremer in this. In recent times. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. two of orange arsenic. of . To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. of course. two of living sulphur. Dalton said he was happy to die. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. his last testament. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. and two of willow charcoal. strong and pure. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. a man named Herbert. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. and prepared in about four days.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret.”35 And indeed. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. and tortured for four years. so as not to lose legibility over time. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. three of rabusenum. and so was let go.
for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. not only by looking at words on a page. one branch of alchemy. vegetable. literary allusions. Spagyric medicine. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . and animal realms. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. According to Paracelsus. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. To say. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. then.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. We may ‘read. Of course. not merely from the outside and as other. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. water. Confronted with such a colloquy. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. But in any event. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. for they occupy different dimensions within it. Paracelsus tells us.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. one may know the inner nature of anything. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. poems. to carry it within. And of course. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. Imagination governs the development of things. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. not all evestra are benefic. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way.’ then. ethereal counterparts. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. allegories. air. but also through the power of the imagination. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. its subtle essence. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. 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. fire.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. but is joined with them in the imagination. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. epigrams. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. Through these evestra.
. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. but here are clearly spiritualized. including Romans 1. . But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries.” and to a host of Biblical references. but that in this particular worldview. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. Genesis 1:27. . and mist. the true medicine and theology. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. like Cremer’s testament. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God.74). It is as though here alchemy. Of course. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. while others. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. it is entirely real.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. fire. 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. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. indeed. light air. emphasize their recipe quality. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. more real than what we see in the physical. One of the better examples of this particular emphasis in alchemical literature is to be found in a now relatively little-known anonymous work dated 1686 and titled Amor Proximi. and so forth. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth).”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. The terms used in its title—oil. This is the true Ground of Nature . philosophy. these two poles became further separated. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. wine. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. II Chronicles 13:5.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. . a matter of . and this is characteristic of the work as whole. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. as a spirit. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. may be interpreted in both ways at once. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. like Valentinus’s. 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.
Oil. Water. Yet alchemy.83). and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. However. as a kind of counterpoint. and hence we find a Christian alchemy.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. but the Sun light. inward dimension. and one three . like Hermeticism. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual.105). and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. these terms have an alchemical provenance. we are told. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. . Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. . the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. for instance. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. in harmony” (II.93). but here. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. and a true Medicus. And so we find the three One. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. Oil. Thus.80). for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. the depths.77).83). In fact. spiritual dimensions of the work. or Water is. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. easily translates into a dominant religion. that is the mystery wherein all lies. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. a true Astrologus. Fire. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. and when either one is absent. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. Salt. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. nor whence they emerge (II. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. is a perspective that is all depth. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. the author writes “That the earth is dark. of existence. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. just as we find for instance Islamic . such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. astrology. and Kabbalistic themes. The implication. Indeed. on salt.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. on mercury. Pordage’s work. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. beginning with the organization of the first section. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. and of the third. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. and gnostic metaphysics. Kabbalah. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. 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. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. from spiritual to physical. This is not . the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. astrological. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. on sulfur. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. 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 he and his spiritual circle. Christian theosophy. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. of the second. of course. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. But such rumors aside. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. not merely a pastiche.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. including “Chymie” or alchemy. 1675). which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi.
Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. sulfur. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy.” “Cherubim. and in this regard he succeeded. “Alchimische Fragen.” Further. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. For instance. . The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. including D. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. Christian scripture. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. in other words. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . tables. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. and calcify it by hand. das himmlische Manna genannt. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. . Indeed. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. but might well also be called pansophic. . Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). diagrams. of Pisa.” and so forth. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. 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. with a plethora of astrological symbols. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. . meaning the transcendent Godhead. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. Here. charts. and “Manna Coeleste. 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 . one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. and instructions. then in a Liquorem .”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. At the same time. to properly prepare mercury. he elided many details. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). or mercury.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. diagrams. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables.” “Thronen. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material.
consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. as well as with what these represent. but also in the microcosm of the artist. letters.’ There is. so that everything—mineral. 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. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. and to ‘write. a natural homology between alchemy and art. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. air. both seek to perfect this creativity. is a relatively modern phenomenon. however far-reaching. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. water. broadly seen. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. alchemy is like learning to use a language. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. Alchemy. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. One must learn both to ‘read. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. and that we will shortly examine further. vegetable. fire. Alchemy. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. but even more in the perfection of humanity. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. and images.’ in the broadest possible sense. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. In this sense. of course. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. or grammars. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. Here. like a painting. animal. In some respects. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. of course. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. Thus we may well say that.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . including not only chemicals and equipment. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. for example. recipes. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. we can easily see. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work.
and the divine. and the divine in ever more profound ways. like Jung. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. no doubt of that. religion. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. But in alchemical works. and the restoration of the right . However. one would have the solution. I would use the word decoding. humanity. In Christian terms. humanity. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. Oral commentary by a master is important. This is by no means to suggest.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. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. It is true that more recently theorists. The ‘solution. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. In alchemy. nature. in the manner of a mathematical equation. extends into a range of realms at once. between the observer and that which is observed. literature. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. were one to decipher what x and y mean. Here in alchemy. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. like those of science. and science are one. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. 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. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. Indeed. Rather. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed.’ in the case of alchemy. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. Contemporary views of literature. 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. 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. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. both of physics and of literary criticism. between subject and object. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions.
As we have seen. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. in the modern era. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. and against the divine. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. pansophy. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. We should also keep in mind the growing split. and twentieth centuries. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. R O S I C R U C I A N . against ourselves. 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. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. So it is with alchemy. In the study of Western esotericism. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. PA N S O P H I C . it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. Literature forms a means toward this gradual process because it is in literature that we can come to identify with and understand in more profound ways all that surrounds us. nineteenth. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. Rosicrucianism. between the sciences and the . but in relation to a host of other currents. and Freemasonry. in particular Christian theosophy. Indeed. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. it has not only continued to exist to the present day.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. especially during the eighteenth. divided against the world. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives.
chemistry. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. including. the fields of alchemy. However. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. Rather. and drawing from his visionary experiences. say.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. It is true that. explored theology and metaphysics. rather than seeking to separate. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. at least in the secular world. illustration and literature. a city on the eastern side of Germany. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. to name only a few of the most luminary. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. The Copernican revolution. as well as De Signatura . For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. John Pordage. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. in the sciences. the discovery of more complex technology. wrote literary works. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. and Franz von Baader. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. and in religion. quite the opposite movement. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. near Poland. or Aurora. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. medicine and astrology. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. physical chemistry from metaphysics. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. the emergence of biology. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. our approach being thematic.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. practiced medicine and astrology. comparative and syncretic. But Western esotericism. Indeed. in Western esotericism we find. archaeology. and geology. this sense of unity dissolved. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. in the arts. nor is that our aim.
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
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).”46 When C. and later. R. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means.” These “Books of Nature. even if at times such orders did exist. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. Indeed. caused a great stir in Europe. in the Orient. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. And of course this brief work. and why he is called Microcosmos. R. For from the very beginning of the Fama.” C.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. according to the Fama. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. The Fama begins by telling the story of C.” however. they could collect Librum Naturae. if not universalism..” into good Latin from Arabic. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. generally speaking. like us. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. and this is the “book M. C. But in any event. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. The Rosicrucians’ goal. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. like its complement the Confessio.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. Certainly we can agree with Frances Yates’s assessment that Rosicrucian may more wisely be seen historically as describing a particular kind of approach to arcane knowledge than as a specific organized order. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. are to be collected by the wise. translates the “book M. R. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. returns eventually to Germany. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. Not coincidentally. of Christian theosophy as well. Hermeticism. “or a perfect method of all arts. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom.. R.
first. sciences.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. . are now. a century old. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. full of geometric symbolism. The description is often hard to follow. recur as well in the Confessio. . and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. the foundations and contents of all faculties. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. they also made the first part of the book M. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. every one with their several figures and sentences. like the book. that you could so read in one only book. of eclecticism or universalism.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . it is to read the universal book. Interestingly. called I. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. so that no one might later be deceived. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. by four persons only. 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. undestroyed. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism.” the Fama continues. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries.” There is more. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. belongs to the mind and imagination. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . and come into our brotherhood. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. and withal by reading understand and remember. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. and hidden to the wicked world. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. and of reading the mysterious book of books. Among other questions. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. or hope for. than that which is the head and sum. . but follow only Christ. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. and by them was made the magical language and writing. wish. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. and shall be) hath been. or are able to believe or utter. with a large dictionary . all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. . is. . and arts. Yet once again. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. . “After this manner. For when Christian Rosencreutz died.
it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. into all beasts . for instance. a new era for mankind.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. .”52 “These characters and letters. All of this. . the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. and quite probably to Egypt. of course. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. and have found out. with the date 1604. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. and above all. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. . It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. of course. the Bible. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. a new language for ourselves. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . 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 writing in a “magic language. 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. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. and endue them with learning .” Such an idea of a magic language has. yea. . These aspects of Rosicrucianism. . . stretching back at least to the Gnostics. yet shall we never be manifested . for instance.”55 The implication is that here. yea. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. without and against the will of God. and made. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. or worse than nothing. metahistorical events at the end of time. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. a very long history in the West. or sixth age. we are told that to some it is permitted that they see and use “those great letters and characters which the Lord God hath written and imprinted in heaven and earth’s edifice. and held that there was emerging a new revelation.
it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. 1604.’s tomb. the Confessio. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. as well as in subsequent literature. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. was of a non-sectarian. on a pansophic mysticism. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . peaceful. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. R. Here. and it too has been used in magical workings. The Rosicrucian dream. brilliant. demons.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols.” one of the most famous instances of which Dee is responsible for? We might also remark on the history of Rosicrucianism after the publication of the Fama. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. or pansophia. and the outrageously baroque.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. or intelligences. as Frances Yates notes. John Dee (1527–1604). in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. discovered the “Enochian language. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. 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. that is. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. And all of this was tied in with the emerging rationalist and materialist paradigm of the so-called Enlightenment—which was precisely opposed to the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Here. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. By 1623. or why. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. disappearing around 1620. 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. particularly in France. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. who.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism.
cabala. The pansophic view. mechanism. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. not specifically Christian. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. 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. 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. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. of course. herbalism. often with Kabbalistic influence. including. or magia naturalis. alchemical. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). various forms of magic. 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. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. 1618)]. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. Pansophy. in order to form the basis for a new. It is true that chemistry. and inquiry into nature more generally. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. Ruechlin. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. and Michael Maier. The most obviously included is natural magic. cabalistic. 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. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. derived from alchemy. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. it emphasizes magic. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. healing. and technologism. magical. We might recall that. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. In many respects. Paracelsus. Christian or not. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. alchemy. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. is universal. and gnostic. in contrast to theosophy. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as .p. which is specifically Christian gnosis. for instance. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism.. but like Dee.
One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. Among the first of these. et Hyperphysica. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. including sorcery. D. of vast and intricate tables. Philosophia. in later Rosicrucianism.O.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. we tend to think of Faust. chiefly under the title Physica. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. magic squares. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top.. and much else. including a French edition titled F. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. But Chemistry]. nee non Magia. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. even if it is illicit. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. and a series of .A. as a somewhat medieval figure. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. de La Rose-Croix. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. one finds a range of possibilities opening up.M. Cabball. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. Metaphysica. It is an astonishingly complex illustration.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. diagrams. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. In some respects. almost all. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. planetary correspondences. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge.
” “Heavenly Seed. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. in visual form. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. Son.M. John Dee. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world.O.M.A. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. the greatest occultist of his day.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. And thus when we look at an illustration from D.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. 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. of course.” and “Mineral Seed. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. . For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. and Holy Spirit.A. for instance. that is. in time and in eternity. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. and with the word Chaos. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. or to Rosicrucianism. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols.” “Vegetable Seed.O. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. surrounded by winged angelic forms. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. partaking in both. of its hyperphysical dimensions. marked also Father. in scholastic theology.” and so forth. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. for instance.” “Animal Seed. Here.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. here we have a different focus. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer.
(London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. not so very long ago. but published only in German). Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. For all of the Rosicrucian. the social and political realm. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. Freemasonry. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. of course. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. One sees this also. and specifically. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. (London: 1665). But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. or the Temple of Wisdom. science. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. and associated with the vast . at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. author of such works as Theomagia. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. theosophic. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. who studied minerology. stretching right into the nineteenth century. which. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). invented an industrial process. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. truly a Renaissance man. originally a scientist. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. unlike these other more individualistic movements. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). Another such figure. not a visionary. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. the arts. of course. in other words. was John Heydon.
(where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). Such publication was. his father. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. of course.” published in Leiden. to a speculative. and during this time began work on his major treatises. Fludd. 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. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. and although . It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. Plato and the Bible. Like Paracelsus himself. and Rosicrucianism. 1617). and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. Robert Fludd went to St. in 1616 and 1617. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. Indeed. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. the arts. of course.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. Martianus Capella and. and the sciences. the same time that saw Fludd’s publication of his History by de Bry saw his publication also of two treatises in Latin defending the “Fraternity of the Rosy Cross. semireligious occult fraternity. Jewish. 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. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. Masonry. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. having received a knighthood for his military service. but the Freemasons endured the longest. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. Sir Thomas Fludd. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. 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. Of course. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. John’s College in Oxford. not surprisingly. Indeed. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. on which he explicitly drew. the Kabbalah. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family.
”61 But for our purposes. born to an aristocratic family. and back to England. Marin Mersenne. By the early 1630s. Arthur Dee. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. 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. and assiduous bibliophile. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. it was clear to Fludd that identification with the Rosicrucians subjected one to much public vitriol—Fludd had been the subject of bitter attacks by a French monk. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. Ashmole. Himself an alchemist. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. John Dee. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. Dr. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. Dee’s son.” Elias Ashmole. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. . Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. But in any event. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. astrologer.60 Then again. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. 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. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. almost exclusively for esoteric causes.
the real . and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. and must remain so. It is significant that Ashmole. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. was not simply an antiquarian. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. except to his own spiritual son. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany .64 These three men. or as Kabbalistic. Samuel. The true name is hidden.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. . and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. and John Comenius (1592–1690). after recording this revelation. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers .” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity.62 Backhouse’s father. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. one could ignore it. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. All of this.”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. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. when Backhouse thought he was dying. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. . This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. of course. . never referred to it again. . These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. of course.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. using a symbolic metalanguage.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. but they are in any case gnostic. and only philosophers of the English Revolution. John Dury (1596–1680).
which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. The aim of a magical language is. according to the Constitutions. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. . . would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. Philosophicall. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. . and Mechanical. Such a language. Arts and Sciences. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. .” certainly a pansophic goal. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. Chymical. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). needless to say. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. However. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. 4. 3. like the symbolism of alchemy. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. 2. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. But most important for us is the final point. . and as Edmond Mazet remarks.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. 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. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. Early in the eighteenth century. Also important here is the third point. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. Freemasonry. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature.
On the other hand. Italy. solid. and indeed. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. especially in France. . luminous.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. . he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. or ignore esotericism. great. On the one hand.68 Within Masonry itself. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. In it. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. including. And during this time. The work has already been commenced in London. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. fraternal Freemasonry. After her death. deism. had an exoteric. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. while publishing numerous books. In this oration. 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. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. it is not surprising that this project. became prominent in French Masonry. nonsectarian basis. 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. for instance. a theosophic circle in London. fellow craftsman. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. especially in England. with its general tendency to reject. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. excepting only theology and politics. 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. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. announced in Ramsay’s oration. England. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. Masonic values of rationalism. and master mason. . the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. suppress.
In other words.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. based as it is on the craft of building. by which. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. Indeed. theosophic. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. to wit I am. . the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. even to this day. and six for the fellow craft. of human and divine architecture both. which is as follows: one word for a divine. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. six for the clergy. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. God has sealed the six directions of space. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. Freemasonry. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1.8). when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism.”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. I answer it was God in six Terminations. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. Rosicrucian. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. when “the secrets of Freemasonry [were] ordered aright as is now and will be to the end of the world for such as do rightly understand it—in three parts in reference to the blessed Trinity who made all things. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. specifically. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building.” In other words. As we have already seen. that is. In the Graham manuscript of 1726.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents.
For according to Western esotericism generally. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. including humanity). For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. but as the actual medium linking humanity. including alchemy. Here.” or signature. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. . Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. of course. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. its secret “silable. Rosicrucianism. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. Masonry. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. And this role is played out through reading and writing. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. What is more. nature. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. pansophy. Kabbalah. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. magic. not consume it. Finally. not just as the means of communication among people. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. Above all. and the divine. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. the theme of our next section. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. Here. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. in Western esotericism. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. and Christian theosophy. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all.
Figure 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r. . T r i p u s A u r e u s ( F r a n k f u r t : 1 6 1 8 ) .
T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) . from .Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r.
Theosophia Revelata.). oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. .Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme.
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. .
oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. Theosophia Revelata. .Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme.). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.
O p u s M a g o .Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . 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. .
Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. O p u s M a g o .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. (Frankfurt: 1784). .Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye.
O p u s M a g o .Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). .
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.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. . and the evocative.” 1988. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work.
“Paradise.Figure 10 Cecil Collins. .” 1976.
Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. the magician Prospero. And what strength I have’s my own. or else my project fails. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Which was to please. Now I want Spirits to enforce. The main character. And pardoned the deceiver. The Tempest. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Or sent to Naples. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . Which is most faint. has brought the play’s action to an end. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you.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.
via the main character. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. Reading. also a magician. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. Here Prospero. That is. but there is no transference of magical power. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. Initially. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. having relinquished his magical power. Rosicrucianism. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. and words—often Hebrew. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. and freed him. shows a tall. In all of these esoteric traditions. are the magicians. and Freemasonry. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. Suddenly. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. by virtue of his skill with words. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. to the audience. is to touch the nature of being itself. winged creature in an ornate room. E. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. Here. to invoke the forces of creation itself. it is often inverted and does not . To be a vehicle for the right words. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. To incant is to enchant. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. As you from crimes would pardoned be. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. for example. In this most magical of plays.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). to sing or to say into being. letters. Conventionally. standing above a reclining woman. where the poet-singer is.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. there are numbers. in effect gives his wand to his audience. is a prosaic matter. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. Warlick. for most of us. we realize that we. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. Let your indulgence set me free. traditionally. pansophy. often little more than the accumulation of data. as audience. today. for instance.
and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). Lewis (1898–1963) and others. V.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 89 seem to convey a particular kind of esoteric understanding. to the magical fiction of C. as with Yeats or H.. and perhaps for someone else to do. Naturally. split further into sections on poetry and prose. I will leave such a project for another time. After a good education. S. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. and entry. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). It is certainly worth doing. not only in the case of Ernst. of even greater value is a vertical. D. However.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. for instance. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. (1886–1961). it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. during which time his family sold their estate. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. the poet H. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. more or less. But his learning is of a particular kind.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. V. Here. his mother Jewish. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. turning then to H. horizontal survey is of value. Milosz traveled widely. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. and so I will not discuss them further here. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. with sections on each of the major currents. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. as can in fact be said of the works of. into the world of French intelligentsia. sometimes explicitly. While a broad. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. third. Canticle of Knowledge: O. sometimes more implicitly. as with Emerson or Rilke. secular or not. for instance. more . I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. D. D.
hell. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. also a tactile visionary. and became. Eliot. a Don Juanesque figure. Not so Milosz. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). of heaven. in 1914. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. Milosz’s poetry. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. Goethe. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. as he saw it. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. Among these figures. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). and the dwelling places of spirits. 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. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. Then. These Swedenborg saw. . but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. theosophy. William Blake (1757–1827). Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. come to fruition in literary form. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. for that matter. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. and. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. and perhaps remains. and Western esotericism in general. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. Kabbalah.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. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. and both wrote in dry. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. create a kind of lineage of such figures. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. he experienced a spiritual illumination. Swedenborg was. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. which are what concern us here. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought.” However. One can. in vision. in fact. S.
Cartographers of consciousness. thieves of joy and pain.” which. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. ayant demandé. have received and already know. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. and also prehistory and archaic history. les voleurs de douleur et de joie.”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. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. to join up with ancient teachings. to awakening it in his reader. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. [For those who. de science et d’amour. that he anticipated a new poetry. as the organizer of archetypes. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. on 14 December 1914. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. At this juncture. and like Blake. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. the observer looks outward. n’entendront rien à ces choses.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). through a new metaphysics. seems bound. from the cosmos. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity.” telling us that “poetry. will understand nothing of these things. but indeed. knowledge and love. crown of human knowledge. seems called upon.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. the passionate pursuit of the Real. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. and in particular. on reçu et savent déjà. having asked. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. But the poet. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. The canticle continues: “A ceux.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. / Others. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. astronomy. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. / Les autres. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. and especially the figures we are discussing here.]”7 .” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. and especially in Milosz.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. qui.
—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. soleil.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil.” Indeed.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. blood. and already know. but living. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. from Pythagoras to Plato. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked.” We think that the sensible world is situated. addressed to the latter.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. But characteristically. Milosz once wrote in a letter that “there are only two kinds of men: the negators who profess irreconcilable systems and the modest affirmers who. sun. “their substance is nameless. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. water. but truly fathers of sensible objects. light. salt. but negators. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. ni les fils. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. for “Tous les mots dont l’assemblage magique a formé ce chant sont des noms de substances visibles [All the words whose magical assembling has formed this song are names of visible substances. ténèbres. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil.]”9 In other words. sang. In fact. lumière.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. have received. darkness. those who are not affirmers. of course. terre. “meditation on the origin of language. he continues. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. eau. earth. / For these names are neither brothers. as well as the names of metals.” Only divine poets see the world of archetypes and describe it reverently by means of the “termes précis et lumineux du langage de la connaissance [precise and luminous terms of the language of knowledge]. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs.” writing that to understand the origin of language. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes].” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. to the initiate. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. etc. nor sons. but it is not so. sel. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. not like “Patmos. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive.”8 This gnostic canticle is. this “situated place. are merely thieves of love and knowledge.
” There is the earthly gold. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests.” Simply that.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. for as he told us before. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. . of love and of wrath. 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. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. muet comme le plomb. or in Milosz’s words.” This distinction between truth and lie. Adam.” “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. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). that is. At such points. . / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. is the “key to the world of light. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . 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.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. when Milosz addresses us directly. and the gold of celestial memory. .]”13 As we might recall. he implicates us in the poem. Milosz tells us again. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. of blessing and of desolation. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. a revelation.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. Milosz exultantly writes. . but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. and only describes what he has seen.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. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. And so it is here. of the primal . he tells us. Here. mute as lead. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. 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. he calls us to the celestial gold.
when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un .”15 Here we find. we find a spiritual corporeality.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. this immense.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. le seul situé. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. and a kind of corporeality of language. hideux. / being in place itself.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. hideous. in the visionary writings of Böhme. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. not light and serenity of recognition. different.]” Then one day. the only one situated.” “immense. [I am always in the same place. rather.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. in theosophic tradition. innocent. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation.” those “lands of nocturnal din. Milosz tells us. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. and this is the “solar egg. / played with me as a father with his child.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 at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. / étant dans le lieu même. Thus.” an “eternity of horror.]”16 See. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. différent.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. for that matter. but “great trials of negation.” and “marrow of iniquity. In the concluding lines of the canticle. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence.” just as in so much of Western esotericism.” selfknowing. and looked behind him.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. Luciferic brain]. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. of those who speak pure language. of light and darkness. Milosz muses on his early poetry. Milosz writes. wise.” We might recall that the mirror.” “the world of profound. delirious. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. and is the province of those who speak pure language. “the Father of Ancients. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. chaste archetypes. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”.
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. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. Qu’ils sont beaux. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. I touch your brow.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light.” is unquestionably alchemical.” replies Beatrix. at its end.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. by the grace of inner vision. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. between the lightworld and the darkworld. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. you speak the truth. let us make the sign. and his Hymns to the Night. to “tender metal partners in marriage. This poem. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. and clothed with the sun. “Master. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. je te touche le front. [1775–1802]).]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. again three times. but refers to an inner alchemy. Thus the canticle. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. Beatrix. trois vois—le signe. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. le signe! [seven times for the past. tendres métaux époux. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. and since we have now known one another seven years. innocents! [The parents sleep there. et pour nos trois jours à venir. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. is especially of interest to us here. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. and for our three days to come. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. [Dear child. 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. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality.]” .]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. tender metal partners in marriage. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth.
” not only references to the alchemical furnace. white and pale blue. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. leaden and lachrymal. I tell you. yellow.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. The adept watches. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. Beatrice. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy.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. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. The alchemical .” while the “oil of blind corruption. 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. woman. any more than are those of the adept. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. of course. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. you liberate yourself. [My chains of constellations are broken. charitée. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. [It is life liberated. and to its incantory language. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée.]”21 It is. And in the conclusion of the poem. is reborn!” Thus once again. Beatrix. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. and “Lumière de l’or. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. but a player on the poet’s inner stage.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. The woman in the poem. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. but the adept replies. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red.” sinks to the depths. he comes back to life. [Light of gold. and black. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. “I believe it is. partaking rather of a heightened. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. The Master forgives me. charity. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. tu te délivres. “I see only one. He opens his eyes and is reborn.
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. by a metallic red-hot egg. by Milosz. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. rests in a horizontal position. then? Undoubtedly. 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. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. perfectly awake. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. in what it reveals. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. one senses vast expanses around one.”22 To whom does this legacy belong.” The line is the fourth verse. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. or rather. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. as though the poet does not exist as an ego.” a “faithful and pious narrative. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. oneself.” and that “In the author’s mind. At the same instant. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. . And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. after all. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. in other words. a light appears. 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. is also to participate in it. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. The incantory. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull).: initiate]. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. the large cloud vanishes. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. as unemotional as nature. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk.
becomes rounder. though including many great poets. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. that. because it springs from this archetypal reality. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. as he put it in his last poem of 1936.23 There is still more. Without question. Such experience is of the truly situated. yet his erudition. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. It is perhaps useful. thereafter. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. 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. and in this there is a kind of reversal. scientifically. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. its brutal mass wars. he is among the most erudite of poets. only he who bows down will be bowed down to.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. at this point. moving up a little. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. we must bow down.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. He insists that in order to understand. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. just as he ignores and despises that world. 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. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. on which it alights like a crown. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. its secular hedonism and materialism. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. stands still. 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. referring to the reader as “my son. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. meaning the archetypal realm. Milosz . about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. And authentic literature. one may even say.
and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. passing through the Pre-Socratics. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. Swedenborg. Plato. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew.” and .” first with his teacher of Hebrew.” 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. 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. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. Claude de Saint Martin. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. alias René Descartes. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. the School of Alexandria. Swedenborg.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. Eugène Ledrain. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal.” 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. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. sought in them peace of spirit. the mystical eighteenth century. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. [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. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. from Egypt up to today.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. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists.”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.” Milosz continued. Martinez de Pasqually. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages.
” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England.” in fact. . and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. S. in short. if we may coin a word. wrote for his poetry. and the true poet. . The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. my son. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. it is not books that we are waiting for. 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. Hiram. inside the books of life and of knowledge. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. Here. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. Under the heading “Hiram. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. Germany. 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. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. King of the unified world. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing.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. Milosz held. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. and several other historians of the brotherhoods in their research on the origins of an institution which claims to descend from the Essenes and from the Priests of the Holy . says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. for instance. in 1938.” which are far more extensive than anything T. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. R.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. In his “Poem of the Arcana. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. Eliot. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse].” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. the books open themselves to him. Le Forestier. King of the Unified World. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. science. the universal regent of faith. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. and Savoy. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. words. as early as 1919. 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. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. and books. Joseph de Maistre. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. the visionary poet. . and art.
the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. like spirit and matter. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. relatively not distant.” He prophesies that “all laboratories of the highest thought will come to group themselves in an immense circle around the future Church of Our Lady. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. as we have seen.”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. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. Religion and science. Indeed.” Here. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. especially the dream of a world utopia. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. who announced a coming millennium.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. he brings in the theme that.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. “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. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore.”32 Here. aspire to holy unification. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. He writes that “Today. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. like all the continents and all the states of this world. alias René Descartes. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy.’ announce their impending appearance.
resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. and scientific fusion. . however. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). moral or social. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. the other members being his apostles. among them its ritual dress. for instance. the “science of the divine. and that he deliberately. of political. The Master alone will wear a red cap. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. I am the enemy of exteriorization. And there are numerous other such examples. author of The Magus.”39 These dreams of universality. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). and the arts via religion. the sciences. sought the widest possible range. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. with a white collar. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. in his work as in his private life. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. de Lubicz. but explicitly Christian. not to say grandiosity. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director.”38 Such a group. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself.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.” And in his little esoteric group. being the Christ-figure. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. 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. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. Our group will have no more than twelve members. in his letter to James Chauvet. In his work. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. as we have seen. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. Milosz wrote. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. of course. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. religious. For us. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics.
the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. D.’s life and interests. Indeed. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. However. magic. There is in Milosz’s poetry and prose a peculiar hieratic quality and a special relationship to his imagined reader that will inform our final two chapters. but toward the future. Indeed. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. D. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. D. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. H. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. and essays. C. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. which outlines the intertwining of H. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself.’s poetry. and a new golden age. of course. In these efforts. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. Rosicrucianism. and Kathleen Raine. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. the poet H. D. Like Prospero in his final speech.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. Charles Williams. we . various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. D. D. numerology. and Milosz. little studied in academe. a relatively obscure figure. Although we here will take our leave of them. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). S. That H. but also for the universality of his aims. There are. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. novels. Lewis. the Tarot. today. D. Here. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. through his writing.. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. not toward the present. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. astrology. psychic insights or visions. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero.
” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement.’s early. Notes is a very unusual work.. In his introduction to H. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. D. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis.” Albert Gelpi writes that H.’s life it is repeated a number of times. But when we begin to look at H. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head.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. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. D. however. D. a cap of consciousness .” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. for H. For it seems clear from her poetry. In Esoteric Origins. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). D. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. D. mind. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. Margaret Fuller. D. “The Thistle and the Serpent. and on the other Margaret Fuller. like H. was fascinated by numerology. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. astrology. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. D. D. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. D. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. H.. save that in H. Likewise. by recognizing that H. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. as many critics have observed. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. overmind.”41 Although the major works by H. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. D.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). We should begin. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. explicitly esoteric book. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. D.
She places gnosis.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. D. is a gnostic with a small g. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. affecting a little my eyes . She writes that to be a true artist. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. engage in a union of love and intellect. one must. which is possible for all. She does write about a “vision of the womb.42 H. almost like two lenses. perceive separately. H.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. 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. syncretic . D. H. transparent. a musician. fluid yet with definite body. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. There are even traces here of Gnosticism.’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. Without doubt. and third is the awakening into the overmind. D. . we begin to suspect that this odd book of fragments is itself a kind of initiatic book of clues for those very coming artists of the overmind. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion.’s work has feminist implications. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. jelly-fish. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. like water. now. The two work separately. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . . D.”43 H. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. my forehead.” The minds of the lovers unite. as primary to the true artist. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. H. indeed. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. or anemone. I visualise it just as well. a nonsectarian. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. Whatever else we may make of it. . without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. yet make one picture. . D.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. contained in a defininte space. As we read on through Notes. or awakening into the overmind. second is the life of the intellect. a musician. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. except through the intellect.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. That overmind seems a cap. Into that over-mind. It is like a closed sea-plant. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. D.
unlocked. was lost in sea-depth. dare more.” “Tribute to the Angels.” mind “floundered. In this respect.” She writes.” “arrogance.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was.”45 “Amen. of the “alchemist’s secret. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos.47 In M.” And the section ends with “illusion. / born of one mother. is a false path.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. pitiful reticence. / it unlocks secret doors. She writes “dare. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. Amen. the overmind being above it. D. prayer” for healing. as these entities are “healers. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton.” In the next section.” here. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. / companions / of the flame. / oneness lost. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found .” and of her “companions / in this mystery. E.” we “nameless initiates. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. over-confidence. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. D.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances.” and of “the most profound philosophy”.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. she holds. D. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. . H.”48 All of this suggests that there is . boasting. too. spell. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. this. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. / jottings of psychic numerical equations.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. D. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. seek. / here is the alchemist’s key. Here. and H. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. In Notes on Thought and Vision. helpers / of the One. seek further.” H.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. . of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. D. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. madness. D. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. for instance. All-father. reversion of old values.” H. devour.
continues.” “invoke the true-magic.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. this has been proved heretical.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. this passage suggests the complexity. little boxes. / lead us back to the one-truth. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. they are anagrams. H. then writes: We have had too much consecration. cryptograms. this. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”.” through painting or writing. too little: I know.” “candle and script and bell. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. / in the light of what went before. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. / inventive.’s invocation of Hermes.” whose “province is thought. conditioned to hatch butterflies . too much.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. artful and curious. devoid of life.”49 Thus. “patron of alchemists.”50 Here H. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. D. but this. I feel the meaning that words hide. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. H. D. In a well-known passage. illuminate what came after. but also those who come after her. D. .” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. D.” . . / re-vivify the eternal verity. too little affirmation. The next work in H. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. The words themselves may resemble boxes. symbols of Psyche reborn. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. she is calling herself to a sacred task. D. D. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. H.
” One must “reinvoke. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. I testify. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. how is it you come so near. indivisible Spirit. is attempting in her poetry here. D.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. so too can the poet be. John. after all. D.” but re-awakened.52 These lines reveal many layers.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. H. in the high-altar of a ruined building. reinvoked in a new form. D. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . we entered a house through a wall. D. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. H. we saw the tree flowering. it was an ordinary tree. saw. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. the conditions under which. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). H.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. in an old garden-square. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. like a ghost. the shattered glass of the past. and so too by implication can we be. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. recreated by the poet. was writing these poems. the poet must “melt down and integrate. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine.
themselves conveyed to the reader through H. it is happening everywhere. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. / it was a sign. Hence H. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. / the darkness of ignorance. the flowering of the wood. H.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. conveyed through the poetry. D. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. D.’s poetry. / .’s poetry in general. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. H. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. and Trilogy in particular. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. is a gnosis of the word. D. with Saint Michael.’s “Tribute to the Angels. In this context. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . D. . alluded to. symbol of Hermes. D.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. music could do nothing with it. In it. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression.” This experience “was vision. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. D. / it was the Holy Ghost—. and even more overtly.’s vision. the divine feminine. This experience. .” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. In H.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. And this experience is gnosis. the next section is very important. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. nothing whatever. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. 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.
/ who did not forego our heritage” .” “she carried a book.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. and the thief. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. They are not. D.” she of the Bona dea. the scribe. right into the final poem. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. And She is “Holy Wisdom. D. / out of the cocoon.’s Trilogy. D. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. and H. D. the Bible.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. as we will see in more detail shortly.” This refrain.’s own heritage. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. 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.” “Santa Sophia. for H. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. brought into paradise with Christ. obviously.” And She is also “Psyche.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. whether it is con- .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. the writer.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. Sophianic spirituality was in H. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. D. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. allied to Mercury also. the butterfly. D. who is also redeemed. in the context of the three poems together. Hermes is the patron of the artist. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. was a baptized Moravian. the thief. under her “drift of veils. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. Rather.. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. and that. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. to her astonishment. She who has been seen “the world over.” 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. D.” H.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. D.
the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. complete with H. H. S. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. as in the original. D. we must turn to The Gift. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. Eve and Mary. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. D. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror.” all are interwoven here. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters.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. Hermes and Christ. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). of mysticism. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. Eliot and W. D. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . To understand this mysticism more fully. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. that until 1998. 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. fear. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. H.” with the experience of Christ. What is more.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. B. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. Likewise. It is not surprising. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. H. D. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. however. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. H. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. The Gift. D. Yeats: to create or reveal a mythological net of symbols that reunites a shattered modern world and makes sense of life in the midst of total chaos.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. In her poetry. I suppose. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but.’s own notes.
with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. & P. Rimius. 1753). D. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. especially those now housed at Yale University. 1753). and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. D. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. D. 1794). itself. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. in her notes. D. though I must confess. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. Pennsylvania. 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.”58 About such accusations. D. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. We can see the extent and depth of H. D. H. it was in fact in her blood. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. had done her research. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. In toto. cited by H. in the middle of the eighteenth century. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. In other words. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . shaping the way that she intended it to be read. H. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. and he was born in Bethlehem.” of the “Arcana. Linde. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. Robinson. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. Mysticism. D.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. make clear this distinction. D. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. .” or Jedediah Weiss. Knapton. . 1755). offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. “Old Father Weiss. Pennsylvania. in . 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. H. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. Rimius’s works. 1909). was herself a baptized Moravian. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. her grandmother’s father. H.
D. it does exist. and its doctrines as representing a pure. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. “you just stumble on it. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine.” She goes on: . but also of the older poet H. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. We were a small community. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . “There is no royal road into this kingdom. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young 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. D. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. conventionally the church. D. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. into The Gift. 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. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. there was no hint of this exoticism.” H. in short.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. D. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. D. . It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. Mother. writes. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously.”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. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. respected and highly respectable. and Son. .. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. Hilda. referring to Father. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. to initiate the reader. The novel. 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. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome.
A word opens a door . as some scholars seem to think. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. . . Rather. A word opens a door.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. it is like that little flower that Mrs. later learning it means Island of Wounds). Hilda surmises. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. Egyptian . cut on a wall at Karnak. I mean. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. . this is the game I play. The word is like a bee-hive. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. the word stops. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. these are the keys. men play a greater role than women. That is how it is. These spiritual mysteries are not. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. I mean. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. but Hilda (and along with her. Williams called a primula. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. but there are no bees in it now. that is why it is so quiet. “Christian had left the Secret with me. 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. indeed. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. “The Secret. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . But there is more. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven.” she told Hilda. Then am I for a moment .114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. Island of Wonders. But really “live” it. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). .” The first is when Mamalie. . A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. . I was afraid the Secret would be lost. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. it is what the novel does for H. in some aspects of the story. The other bees have gone. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. 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 chapter 5 of The Gift. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. D. considerably more of this theme to unpack. and even here in her narrative. Hilda’s grandmother.
and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices.’s. bore the names of Cammerhof. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. . The most important scene for this gnostic drama.62 Like the Templars. of snow swirling. Hebrew. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. . indeed. laughing all the time. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. kept in a birch-bark case. but all of them. She and her . Greek. it is not a confabulation of H. had a name for. altogether. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. is not Europe but North America. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians.” This scroll.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.” not just Minne-ha-ha. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician.” “the laughter of leaves. it was the laughter of the water. but this was untrue. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. “like scales running up and down.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. of wind. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. was to decide the future of the whole country . not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. This rapport is historically verifiable. the answer given by the Spirits. though. though. D. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. Pyrlaeus. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. said Mamalie.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters.63 In The Gift. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. so that “It was laughing.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. done in their picture-writing. Mamalie continues. in particular the Shawnee. According to Mamalie. this laughter that ran over us. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case.
the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. In 1755. D. Mamalie. so much so that she never played music again. The Gift. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. called “New Gnadenhütten. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. At the novel’s conclusion. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. domination. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England.” as “Aryan. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. decoded it and she played it. 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. even refers to the American David Williamson.” 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. In her notes. or Wounded Island. 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. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. in an even more attenuated form.”69 The two worlds have become one. And in a subsequent event.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. those hiding in the attic burned alive. and then.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. And yet in the very final passages. having “burnt it up.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. H. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. . who was to die at twenty-five. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. said in her fragmented narrative. Wunden Eiland. raining down terror from the skies. Christian Seidel.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling.
Her interest in spiritualism. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. and future continually intermingle.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. In this context. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. D. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. Indeed.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. In her poetry and fiction. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. not merely as decorations. . Among major twentiethcentury authors. as well as of timelessness and time. but as integral to her work. H. D. there. both poetic and fictional. D. D.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. H.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. present.’s English present. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. In her profoundly ambitious works.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. singing of the Wounds. past and present. for instance.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth.V. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. the more deeply one looks into her works. Likewise. and out of which all great work is generated. H. H. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. Out of the chaos and random destruction of the bombing of England in her Trilogy and The Gift emerge not only a palimpsest of Moravian past and H. As we have seen.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. H. But above all.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. her work suggests that past. one of the original Moravian initiates. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. D. D. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos.
late Rome. yes. whom we invoke as Lucifer. Vale Ave. D. and contemporary London. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. H. early seventeenth-century England. The Lucifer-Lilith. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. and its implications. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. through time—specifically. true we had met in sudden frenzy. in his pre-Eve manifestation. Lilith. After his death. legendary Provence. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. through her fiction and through her poetry. to be sure. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. dynastic Egypt. although: I hardly knew my Lord. outlined in entirety.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. may be Angel or Devil.118 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E she found an esoteric religious perspective that recognized the divine feminine in the form of Sophia. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. the Light-bringer. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. parted in the dark. Mystery and a portent. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. as history tells us. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. D. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. D. has the same root derivation as Seraph. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. H. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. as Adam. Elizabeth recalls him to her. but it was only in her later work that we see it. We cannot conclude without reference to H.71 . through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. meeting and parting. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. but at the same time.
” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. . 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. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. Here. the Writing. The dead are living still.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. taken in toto. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. the “springs gone under the hill. 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. . D.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. Of course. But then “From grotto grove and shrine.” the mysteries of the holy well.” but a new mythology that turns out to be the grand theme of Western esotericism and that is perhaps as old as the mystery of the word itself. D.’s lifetime of work. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction.” the holy presences withdraw.” and again through it “I had the answer.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. 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. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. “the Mystery.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. / infinity portrayed in simple things. Her poetry and her prose.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. I would like to explore not the art of magic. and the Scroll. But my . magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. here again “the words laugh. as in poetry.
an alteration in the Primary World.” “Sir. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. and so forth. “That is why they will work only through a man. John Ransom. Let us take an example. “The Descent of the Gods. “one who by his own will once opened it.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment.” But later in the same essay. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. or pretends to produce.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. it is not an art but a technique. C. yes. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. invokes the Oyéresu. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. C.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. Viritrilbia. its desire is power in this world. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. R.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. things are not nearly so clear cut.” “Their naked power. or Venus. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. seems reasonable enough in theory. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. the “true powers of Heaven. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. when we turn to actual works. they will unmake all Middle Earth. fay or mortal. domination of things and wills.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. and the descrip- . Lewis.” says Ransom. Here.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. S.” replies Ransom. and Charles Williams). R. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. as one might imagine.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. R. here.” which might best be translated as “magic. S. Tolkien. Magic produces. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). R. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. it remains distinct from the other two. 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. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. J.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. His main character. or Mercury. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. J. saying “I have become a bridge.
. until his outraged senses forsook him. unmitigated. They could not bear that it should end. . 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. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. sharp. .”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. were it possible. They experience “needle-pointed desires. . ready to kill. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. such a distinction does not hold up well at all.” the narrator tells us.” “He would have known sensuously. bright and ruthless.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. in which none other than the ancient . ready to die. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. deafened.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. They could not bear that it should continue. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. In the beginning of the chapter. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under .”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. . brisk merriments.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. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. here. . . A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. They were blinded. scorched. sticky gums . for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. sweet-scented and full of desire. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. calling down the powers. . 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 . and the Blue Room. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. outspeeding light: it was Charity . whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room.”80 It is not really possible. In this chapter. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. They thought it would burn their bones. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. where the invocation has its center. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers.
Therefore . even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. of course. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. 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.”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. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. The invocation takes place. About Williams’s novels.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events.” the seventeenth chapter. “Obviously it was high time she went in. and the Director (Dr. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. In other words. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. and one with Merlin and Ransom). “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. in a “secondary world” of fiction. and by its end. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. one with ordinary people. she sees that clothes are piled inside.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. In so doing. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. Anne’s. though one could easily imagine it so.
one is also encountering new realms of existence. On the other hand. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. For that. It was not written for its entertainment value. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. 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. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. for in the act of reading. By doing so. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. . . Who and what is Lilith.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. in general. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. [Emphasis added.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. for instance. 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. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. [Emphasis added. they unveil the power of archetypes and. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. almost cathartic effect. In effect they are initiations. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. they reveal forms of necromancy. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. I wrote it. I am afraid. and decidedly corrupt ones.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. in fact. I have put a great deal into it. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. 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. not find it very entertaining. and how therefore the reader is in . such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. and her observations are revealing. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. to find out what it was about.
it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. putting my cards on the table. magicians call it magic. after all. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. badly lit and ill-tended room. that is to say.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. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. for it is effectual. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. but Fortune was. the side She turns away from earth. 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. and imagined myself speaking to him. I made the astral projection by the usual method. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. like all of her . a shabby. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. untidy. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. Fortune’s novel. and I seemed to be in a strange room. who is Moloch. which is the dark side of the Moon. She gave rise to the character Lilith. In some respects. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. Moon Magic is exemplary of this complementary relationship between the extraordinary events the narrator relates and the matter-of-fact tone in which such events are discussed. The magic worked. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. appears clearly in her novels. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. It does not matter to me what it is called. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. In the novel’s seventh chapter. not surprisingly. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character.
one will recall. but perhaps most interestingly. at the end of the story. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. to “enter the Unseen. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. Rhodes. was consummately the logician. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. . Not only were they alive. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. and many others. As a character. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. but I shared in their life. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. 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. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. Thus Rhodes. a young woman named Ursula .”85 And so the book concludes. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. like Taverner.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. Marius. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. The Secrets of Dr. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. .” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. Taverner. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. for. a fellow named Fouldes.” The initiation we see in “A Son of the Night” is a simple change of consciousness: it is an awakening to the inner life of nature.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. 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 all things there was a profound difference. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Rhodes.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. Holmes. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. After his entry into the Unseen.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. I was no longer alone. for I was one with them . I had passed over into the Unseen. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison.
86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. Frost and Wither are without mercy. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. an experienced magician. and in another moment the room was empty . in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. He was experienced in dealing with such things. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. there are also depraved black magicians.’ replied Murchison. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. breaking the embarrassing silence. ‘Well. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). Then. In That Hideous Strength. pure selfishness.’ Brangwyn concluded. . and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. The girl he could do nothing for. cold and merciless.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. . represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . ‘so that’s that. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. The strange. Of the two books. ‘That is very much that. suddenly. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. . She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. among them men named Frost and Wither. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. and her half-brother. a bear of a man. but also logically. . and. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.’ ‘Yes. but then Murchison. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. they were getting it in the neck. . they are without morality. Yet paradoxically. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance.’ said Brangwyn. like Astley in The Winged Bull. banked and double-banked.
But Charles Williams and even C. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. Taverner. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. Williams. 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. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. . and thanks to that.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation.90 .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. either alone. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. In all of the fiction we are considering here. There is. 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. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost .89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. . and finally the Society of the Inner Light. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. helped by appropriate texts. experience of magic. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. S. powers both good and evil. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. and Fortune. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. or with the help of an initatory. Whether or not a disciple has a master. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. in this kind of fiction. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents.
Williams. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. thoroughly real. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. 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. if we may so put it. 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.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. In fact. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. Finally. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. Third. Second. active imagination is essential. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. in literary form. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. .91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. Indeed. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. since in the fiction we have been discussing.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings.” and thus to written works like novels. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. 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. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. then. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. Such a tension corresponds.” What conclusions can we draw. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin.
Thus. As we have already seen. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. there remain fundamental differences. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. held in London’s Tate Gallery. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. in the sense of Rilke. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. an important and genuinely original British painter. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. Theosophic illustrations in particular. 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. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. Collins was a gifted aphorist. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. transcendent and perhaps. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. and that like his contemporary poet. But it is in the work of Lewis that we find an initiation into magical working that rises to the multivalent level of full artistic creation. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works.. but also in Böhmean theosophy. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. and his writings reveal in detail his . Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). higher aspects of nature and humanity. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. indirectly or directly. E. Still. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. It was not until 1994 that Brian Keeble brought out an edited book of Collins’s writings under the title The Vision of the Fool. angelic realm. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. which is why I have chosen to study them together. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic.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. but with the publication of this book.
of all that which desires to give. I remember you. But you exist. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. we are all exiles. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. of his solitary walks in the countryside.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. A frustration of all that which is growing. for Collins. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. is imbued always with spiritual significance.” 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. for he must ‘leap the gaps. Our time denies. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. [14 January. I long for my race. Totnes. to come to fruition. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. But here I wander. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. But deep underneath flows the secret stream.95 In 1965. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . the contemplative. In “Hymn of Life. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. I know of your existence. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. denies all who have inward fruit. Denies the artist. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. I long for my kingdom. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. 1945. and my life with you.’ must make intellectual connections individually.” or again. 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. the human being. and I know nothing. A winter of the spirit is over all society. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader.” Ordinary life in the natural world. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature.
” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. . .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. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. The value of the artist is not to decorate. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. in Collins’s view. For like answers to like and creates actualization . . Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. This is the same thing actually.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. awaken this inner rapport in us. In his essay “Art and Modern Man.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. It can only be known by inner nuance.97 Works of art. and the making of money. but only by rapport with those worlds. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. the meaning. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. 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[. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. by measurement or analysis. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. rapport. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. by description. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. 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.] 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.
the answer comes back to us from within them. and what is more. ‘Everything that lives is holy.’ In other words. canonical religions and ritual. the elements. we have no canonic culture of our own. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent.98 The work of art. we have communion with it[.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. and that is the eye of the heart. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. spiritu- . Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. he writes.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. .” He continues: We now have the possibility of this hidden unity of man’s inner world at last permeating the sphere of the exterior world and transforming it. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. rocks. of mere desires. his inner world. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. In the past. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. widened. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. the opening of man’s inner nature.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental.132 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E As our consciousness becomes transformed we become more sensitive to a wider range of nuance and vibration[. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. religious.” In his final remarks. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. We live. trees. and transmuted. But there is something else that has to be opened. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . the unveiling of the atom. in Collins’s view. . canonic language. in a “time of the apocalypse. it becomes qualitative. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. in Collins’s view. We are all apt to fall asleep.
” 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. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. like “Angels” (1948). too. in “The Invocation. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. Here. dreamlike. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. a union of figure. by patterns on the limbs and torso. her head bent back and contemplative. to the left the orb of the sun. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. 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. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. To gaze at this painting is to . her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. 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. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. landscape is transformed as well. landscape. an active support. the one with the sword. and vibrant color. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. Often. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. In many of his later paintings. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. as in many of his visionary paintings. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. Many of these images have a strange. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. such as “The Invocation” (1944). the figures’ eyes are opened.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. hieratic quality. but that is uplifting and paradisal. not afraid to wound the heart. make it bleed. and the other with the light. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure.
Collins wrote in this book. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. like an electrical transformer. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. in Collins’s view. Lost paradise and . in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. D. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. But Collins offers these through visual images. that like Milosz. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. a world between us and it. aphorisms. In another book. but central. or altar. we then have ‘sacred space.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. as in the works of Milosz and H. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. he is like very few other painters.. his drawings. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer.. Poems. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. chair. In all of these works. Divine Reality. and indeed. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. Meditations. In this respect. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. so that God becomes a table. . and poems that illuminate his paintings. by which we make contact with reality through images . he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. Indeed. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). H. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. but also essays. D.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.’ sacred images. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. he offers through his paintings. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. . one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. And it is also clear. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. Here. not least because his work includes not only images. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence.
as Dionysius himself points out. and the via negativa. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. Strictly speaking. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. or way of affirmation. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. for instance. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. or mere entertainment. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. as a means of transmitting knowledge. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. and the arts in written form. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. and awakening gnosis.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. although they may contain an element of play. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. these are the themes of these great artists. of course. It is. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. the way of images and forms and transformations. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. Thus our third point: that . what we find is in fact the via negativa. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. For in our overview of Western esotericism. but rather. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. or way of negation. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. First. science. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. to the conjunction of spirituality. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis.
Rather. the cosmos. But in Western esoteric traditions. between the human and natural realms. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. on the other hand. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. and the divine. In a modern worldview. history. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. Ideas.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. plant extracts. hidden. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. there is only the division between self and other.’ the divine. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. chemistry. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. And Western esoteric literature. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. sometimes called by Böhme the . works only by reference to this third element. and there is sheer transcendence. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. and so on. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. Here is the essential division between a modern. D. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. sociology.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. In modern education. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. the divine. ‘third element.’ quantifiable knowledge. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. psychology. between humanity and the cosmos. or Symbols. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. geology.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. Western esoteric traditions. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective.
Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. and by others the Nothing. This archetypal realm. first. The aim of the esoteric . for all three of these poets. or any of the other major esoteric currents. by definition a ‘seer. but nothing. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. meaning by that not absence. In all of these traditions. an artist. in this worldview. often seen as androgynous. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. and literary expression. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. a theologian. For the purpose of such literature is. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. biology. Thus the artist.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. and a chemist. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. cosmology. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. Rosicrucianism. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. Adam. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. the absolute unity of subject and object. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. is in fact prophetic. and his fall from paradise. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. or Fullness. theosophy. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. a mythologist. In brief. a divine mathematics. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. in order to create. alchemy. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. The artist. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. we find a divine art and a divine science.
drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. the language of creation itself. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. . but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. Rosicrucian. and notarikon. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. even from a single letter. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. which is to say. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. temurah.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. for instance. Hence. where it arguably sparked the entire . whether a Kabbalist. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. almost always denoting divinity. In this perspective. 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. author of The Magus. magical. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. contains some secret of wisdom. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. theosophic.’”102 Likewise. and Masonic illustrations. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. 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. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. or a pansoph. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. . Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. pansophic. an alchemist. a theosopher.
Futurism. certainly it may be the Christian . it may be the “Book of Nature. . 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. influenced much of modern Russian literature. and especially of written language and of the book. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. and Masonry. 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. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. consequently. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. . a synthetic magical language of unprecedented epistemological power whose ultimate function was to serve as a means of conjuring new life in the future world. following the various currents through Kabbalism. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. Social Realism. 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. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and.” or the “Book of Life”. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state.” or the “Book of Revelation. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. theosophy. magic. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. when surveying the various esoteric currents.104 Obviously.’ and this is not necessarily so. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. generally speaking .
Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. gurus. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. However. Indeed. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. which indeed still finds them audiences today. 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. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. and indeed even farther back. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. but rather relied upon the written word. and Geber. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. Islam. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. and what is more. much less in Christianity specifically. 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. for instance. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. or masters. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. Even in the case of alchemy. or nonexistent. interrupted. Hermes. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. Given our overview. In Hinduism or Buddhism. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. or in Buddhism.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. But what about Western esotericism in the Christian world? Why are there virtually no verifiable traditional initiatory lineages like those we find in other traditions? There are of course exceptions—one thinks in particular of Freemasonry and its claims to a continuous lineage going back at least to the time of the Knights Templar. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. and so on back into antiquity. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. where the tradition .
but who rather offered the world only written works. of course. when we look at the writing of Milosz. and in particular at its strange. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. often strikingly beautiful. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. but .” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives.’ or ‘data’. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. That is to say. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. initiatory. particularly the works of Böhme. Such a view of the written word is.’ a means of conveying ‘information. may think of his poetry. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. dreamlike language and imagery. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. In modern parlance. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. have been adorned with copious illustrations. Such evocation is. One thinks here. of Abraham Abulafia. naturally. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. who. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. Christian theosophic literature. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. V Milosz. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. I believe. are not simply decorations. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness.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. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. Somehow. Indeed. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. in addressing this far-off “son. 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. hieratic. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. Let us take another example. These illustrations. whatever one . Milosz. for in all cases. to some future initiate in a far century. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. By contrast.
But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. and flower in the reader too. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. tending. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. in other words. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. grow. that is. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. In my view.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. Obviously. Such an illustration. by gazing at such an image. Taken together. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. so there is no need here to repeat myself. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. pansophic. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. What is more. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. the lightworld of paradise. the dark-world of hell. Rather. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. and over time those seeds can take root. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. I use the term ahistorical continuity.106 To explain this phenomenon. theosophic. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. does have an initiatic function—that is. it is more immediate and visceral. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period.” or Wisdom. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. reaping. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. For instance. represented by a cross. This metaphor—of sowing. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. through the turbulence of earthly life.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. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. which refers to . If a book is to serve an initiatic function. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. for instance. In this way. marked also “Sophia.
But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. you truly will know its worth. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. After all. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. this function must be a change in consciousness. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. 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. and who have a desire to begin. it can reëmerge in another. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition.’ 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. Thus. Naturally. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. leave untouched the precious Names of God . . one might even say impossible. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. for example. and are in earnest. Such a reader joins with the author. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. . Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. as I am suggesting. Perhaps.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 143 the continuation of a specific esoteric paradigm precisely without any direct historical lineage. if you wish to use this little book aright. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. instead. or a biology textbook. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. If. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. the daily news. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . the written word itself can have an initiatory function. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. Here. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period.
and so on for the entire week. a prayer for washing and dressing. the source from which they emerge.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. or has knowledge-of. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. judgemental consciousness. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. and second. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. a prayer for one’s daily work. to become a channel for the divine current. a prayer for noon. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. but the “instrument of God. Then that thing.” “Be rightly warned. it walks in its own delusion. one automatically is caught in delusion.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. and become not its own possession. . that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. which it sees as divine. he tells us. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. in his “Warning to the Reader. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. and experience the divine directly. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation.”107 Or again.” If on the one hand.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. Böhme is quite adamant in his insistence that the aspiring soul must follow the difficult path of giving up selfishness and the arrogance of reasoning. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. but. this objectifying delusion. not by merely mouthing the words. and a prayer before sleep.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. and for when one rises. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. a prayer for the evening.” or objectified realm. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection.
although there are divisions between archetypes. there is no sense of separation between self and other. the light and the dark. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. conversely. the self in one sense continues to exist. or divided from the divine. love and wrath. the origin not only of language. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. Here we are. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. or subject and object. but of the cosmos itself. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. There emerges a spacious or open quality. or the divine eye that sees itself. between the divine and the natural. in other words. then language must reflect this division. There is simply awareness. or perceiver and what is perceived. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. in that there remains an observer. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. at the far limit of what we can express in language. divine in its origin. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. the yes and the no. in the archetypal realm there is . If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. In other words. just as. 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.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. we have the point of origin. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. For language is in its innermost nature divine. Indeed. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. Above. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. of course. in Western esotericism generally. where. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. as we have seen. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. as are nature and humanity. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward.
yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. consumerist state was built from a materialist. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. in these esoteric traditions. During this . nature. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. For Western esotericism. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. By contrast. The massive machine of the modern technological. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. secular. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. and the participatory. But by the late twentieth century. 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. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. for after all. transformative. which is rife with the language of objectification. this objectification of literature and literary theory has much to do with why such theoretic discussions are so often unreadable—from a viewpoint within the ambit of Western esotericism. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. Undoubtedly. but never owned. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. or separation into self and other. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. and the divine. Language. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. the divine is perforce unmentionable. suppression. and so forth. or manifest more indirectly in literature. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. and objectified worldview. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. secular. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. in modern literary theory or theories of language.
the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. If so. and the arts. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. after all that we have surveyed. in theosophic works. in particular. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. scientific or otherwise. 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. nature. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. and the divine. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. inner territory. To this we now turn. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. too. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. profound connections between humanity.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. psychology. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. but also for society itself. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. to name only a few. As we have seen throughout this study. L I T E R AT U R E . inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. troubadours and chivalry. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. at least for some. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. Buddhism. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. religion. But to begin to explore this new. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. A R T. magic or theosophy. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. of awakening latent. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. which is to say. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . including elements of the sciences. the Lullian art.
. Naturally. rejoicings. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. found throughout Western history. as we have seen. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. 1867–1935). he simply began to murmur line after line. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. nature. In this view.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. and indeed.”111 Unconscious of creation.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. to write presupposes already having seen. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. To use Plato’s metaphor. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. In this esoteric view of literature. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. A. not the life of shadows. and the divine. beyond history. A. as the seers tell us. . but of reality. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. E. The poet’s psyche. 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 . Indeed. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. to turn to a poet. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. E. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. (George William Russell. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. E. at this juncture. E. 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. he tells us. It may be of use. In his book Song and Its Fountains. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. But A. ascends to “that high state where. images. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. joys. a friend of Yeats. . A.
writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. A. E. and after that images. 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.” Thus. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. A. E.” he wrote. B.”117 For this reason.”113 This movement of consciousness A. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. perhaps surprisingly. was later translated into words. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. and song.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. but all was a motion in deep being. even if unaware of precisely how or why.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. A. E. E.”115 He understood something of the psyche. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. from a descent after an ascent. analyzes the movement of consciousness. “I have.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. later discussed with W. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego.”114 A far exile from that glory. the poet. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. A. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. There was neither sight nor sound. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. Yet A. though too often they have not kept faith . 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. gone inward into itself. E. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. Yeats.”116 Still. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. looks upon the poet as a prophet. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. recognized his limits. but of the universal spirit he understood little. E.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights.” he wrote. the creation of poetry in A. it draws nigh to its own divine root. “and then what was originally a motion in deep being broke into a dazzle of images which symbolized in some deep way a motion of life in that profundity. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth.
in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). .” And there is more. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. But at times they still receive the oracles. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. . we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. they come “trailing clouds of glory.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. 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. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. In Christian theosophy. . and imbued with this new visionary understanding. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. in that solitude we may meet multitude.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. E. may. as did the sybils of old. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. E. Thomas Bromley. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. when we seem most alone. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. A. when it becomes truly self-conscious. and they wove into drama or fiction. 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. Throughout our investigations. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. E. the view of literary creation that A. for instance. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. 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. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking.”121 These insights of A. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. without knowing it. In essence. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination.” The psyche. E. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. characters they had never met in life. or division into self and other.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. And A.
which no earthly Distance can hinder. although there is still an observer and what is observed. he may encounter unfamiliar figures.’s case. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. irrespective of time or distance—and A. symbols. the author also is not directly present. there also is participation in what is observed. like theater. which later emerge in poetry. and taken on a kind of life of its own. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. the poet is more like a receiver. Reading. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. In Bromley’s case. in between both author and reader. In this realm. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. and so requires our sympathetic participation.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. and the world is shot through with light. Of course. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. events. Likewise. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. One becomes what one sees. passive. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. E. or of Captain Ahab. on the other a visionary poet. as if we knew them as neighbors. absorbed completely in a book. by A. in the latter case. fiction. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. the book or work has been separated from its writer. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . E. and to one another in the Internal. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. E. more powerful. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. In the first case. and we must.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. in A. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. One experiences great bliss. as if by happenstance. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. and experiences. say. and between the models that they represent. For who. a novel. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. for instance. We are carried along on the words of the author. and nearer both to Heaven. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. But nonetheless. at least temporarily. where. or drama.
took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. writing. or to have it stricken. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. And indeed. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. habitual self is gone. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. but eventually puts the book down. fiction. Perhaps. magic is real. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. essays. existing in a supraphysical dimension. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. and in Kabbalistic practice. playing for keeps. Ordinary. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. Of course. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. and one enters into the new birth. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. 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. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. By contrast. whereas the esotericist is.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. . one could argue that what is ‘other’ in visionary experiences like those alluded to by Bromley is in fact merely a psychological projection of the ego. The difference. and one has entered a new world. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. one turns away from the painting. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. we might reverse the terms. for example. symbolizes eternal conditions. the visions of the theosophers are real. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. We see this in the Book of Revelation. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. drama. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. and books. between studying a work of literature or of art on the one hand and these forms of esotericism on the other is that the effects of reading a work of literature are limited: one is imaginatively engaged. presumably. our authors tell us. For when a reader engages in a literary work. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. in alchemical work. 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. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. of course. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson.
fiction. R. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. Jane Leade. the Kabbalist. but there is much more to be done. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. the literary work. or Kabbalists—by self-election. Abraham Abulafia. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. If a primary aim of the alchemist. But fundamental questions remain. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. Jacob Böhme.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. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. Yet at the same time. their works like second nature. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. so too is the author. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. gnostics. Nicholas . If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. the Kabbalist. and may even connect profoundly with each other. lives on. Johannes Tauler. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. Secret Societies. Meister Eckhart. but what came into existence through him. in the process of creating a fictional world. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. Ramon Lull. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. the gnostic. the alchemist. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. is to attain paradisal immortality. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. Thomas Bromley. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. R. John Pordage. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object.
and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. In being. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. “add it to his own arsenal of power. and indeed even God himself.” It may well be. Berdyaev tells us. to be guided by the author. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. therefore. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews.124 The Ungrund. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. taken together. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. In what could be considered the summation of his thought—the book The Beginning and the End—Berdyaev discusses the immense significance of Jacob Böhme’s concept of the Ungrund for religion and philosophy. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. but in every case. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. esoteric or not. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. in the . the author is reaching out. to in Emerson’s words. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. precedes all being. 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. 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). help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. for as I have discussed elsewhere. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. moreover. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. and consciousness. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. literature.
where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. Coming from a Buddhist perspective.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms.” and “is the beginning of a different world. As Berdyaev points out. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. “Creative activity. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. “it is an end of this world. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. fictional. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. or to put it another way. Nishitani Keiji. the artist. and especially on the . the artist. It is knowledge.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. 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. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. of creativity. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. particularly the arts of literature.” he writes. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. a different sort of knowledge. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. and its expression in human creativity. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. issues from existential eternity. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. and therefore of division. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier.
As we have seen throughout this study. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. “an equality in love. The force of destiny is at work here. This intensifies our narcissism.”128 True emptiness. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. . so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. of course. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. is beyond definition.” Authentic freedom is. emerges authentic freedom. and indeed. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . self-centered consciousness. While this is our own act. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. that is. . In Nishitani’s work. . the choices of the will. . we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. What .156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. Out of this transcendence alone. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. and has the effect not of separating. Nishitani. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. . in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. egoistic mode of being. or rather in unison. or “true emptiness. for faced with nihility. and us from them.” an “absolute openness. self-identically.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . or perhaps better still. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. one retreats into self even further. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. . what is the same thing. in other words. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. As rational or personal beings. or the emptiness of all things. Nishitani affirms. This is the field of shunyata. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. it is not something we are free to do as we please .
But in any case. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. so Western esotericism suggests. It can lead us. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. with nature.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. . including paintings. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. for all their diversity. language is indeed divine. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. have at their center this mystery of the word. seen as a whole. write and are written. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion.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. anything that can be read or written. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. We read and are read. political. as the sense of self and other diminishes. or even linguistic construction. Paradoxically. The Western esoteric traditions. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. a calling toward what we are meant to be. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. joined together with one another.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness.
Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. For an overview of Western esotericism. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. the official Web site of the ASE.edu ] for articles. a Dutch scholar. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. See Hanegraaff. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. much of it in French. 5.edu.esoteric.esoteric.. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. 3.org.msu. 1994). published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. 4. 1992). ibid. See Arthur Versluis. 159 .msu.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. in this field. 2. 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. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. see Antoine Faivre. See Steven Katz. See also the journal Esoterica [www. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. ed. See 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. including Wouter Hanegraaff. Faivre.aseweb. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. mostly by North American scholars.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210.
. See Faivre. ed. (London: Sheldon. CHAPTER ONE 1. pp. pp. Victor Sogen Hori. pp. pp. p. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. 13. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. See Versluis. p. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press.. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. John Pordage. See Versluis. 76–106. 219–233. 12. Sophia. 307. p. 9. Translation is mine. 309.. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. 83 ff. Myths.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. 1974). Dreams. pp. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. See Frederick Goldin. E. 2000). 7. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. 180. 1973). The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. . pp. 145. 14. 248. in Arthur Versluis. Ibid. 1975). pp. pp. Peers. 2. 5. 223. whether they know it or not. See. 6. Paragon House. Nag Hammadi Library. 4. cit. p. 10. 1999). eds. 3. See Gershom Scholem. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. 1863). Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Nag Hammadi Library. Jean La Fontaine. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. 3. Paul. 51–89. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. See Charbonneau. p. Paul: Grail. 2000). 1991). Paul: Paragon House. Paul: Grail. 18 ff. 4. See ibid. 10–15. p. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. Mircea Eliade. 1996). 1996) of Piers Ploughman. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. see also Scholem. 5. 2000). 97. 8. 1965).. 2. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. p. 1986). 140. p. CHAPTER TWO 1. 37 ff.. 151. Ramon Lull. Gnosis and Literature (St. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor.. pp. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. p. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. 111. trs. 11. See Arthur Versluis. 1992). 1978). 14–21. op.
17. See. Doctor Illuminatus. 10. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 14. See J. Ibid.331. 298 ff.C. op. Ibid. ed. Ibid. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. 18.. Opera omnia. 34. 13. et al.80 ff. A. Ibid. 16. trs. 51. Ibid. 1953) I.. Zohar IV .. 1979). for instance. 278. 28. in The Zohar.. p. p. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. Dan. cit. Ibid. p.. 15. 59. 30.. p. Ibid. 22. See A. I. cit. I.. Ibid. 20. ed. Twersky. 36. Cassirer. 250. 57. See Verman. 7. II.71. C. p.205b. 24. 1987)... 1779). A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull.. Origins.. 31. Ibid. see also Moshe Idel. p. II. Ibid. See Moshe Idel.B. 35. p. pp. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. 32. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ibid. Scholem. 8. 1961).320–323. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. 29. Joseph Blau.75. II.. Simon. cit. 27..NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. 101–102.351. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. See Arthur Edward Waite. p. 1964). 11. 1992). Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. p. 12.. 197. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. 49–50. ed.76.205b–206a. II.. Gershom Scholem. pp. I. I. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. 21. 197. eds. 270. and Françoise Secret. IV . Vasoli. See Verman. 37. op. 246.. Origins.77. 61. op. I. Ibid. I.. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press.314. 9. 25. 1969).325. p. 1988). p. p. See Scholem. 1965). Cassirer. (London: Soncino. See Mark Verman. p. 33. Ibid.. See Pico della Mirandola. trs. . I. Tristan. Origins. 29. 26. 57. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. Ibid. 23. 66. (Hildesheim: Olms. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. 38.. p. 280. M.. 394.. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bonner. p. ed. p. 1984). 1983). The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. Ibid. 52. p. see also Scholem. 19. 1986). ed.312. 1985)..
77. (Cassel: Wessel. Ibid.. forthcoming.O. Fama. The following page references are to Yates.M. p. ed. M. Fama. p. 129. 257. . . 61. See also Marsha Schuchard. p. The Alchemy of Art. Josten. See Frances Yates. (Cassel: Wessel. 1615). 54. for the reader’s convenience. 58. 220. in a group called the Round Table. p. ms. I. for text. 50. 1999). p. 238. 22. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. 1998). II. 67. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. See. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . for background. 252.. a cosmologist. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. . 41. Ibid. table of contents.P. 45. Ibid. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. p. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. . 63. D. Ibid. Fama.M. Confessio. 1971).A. Hall. 46. 59. 246. Ibid.D. cit. H... 1975). Ibid.. p. Ibid.. 44. der gantzen weiten welt . The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. Theatre of the World. 48. Yates. See Versluis... and others. 1997). p. Secret Societies. p. William Huffman. p. p. Ibid. Ibid. 49. 37. Ashmole.. 62. . See. See Versluis. 53.. p. 251. 1988). Confessio. 241. 40..102–104.77. p. 253. I. 47. C.. including two physicists. ed. See Versluis. p. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. Ibid. a theologian. 52. 221. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. Freemasonry. p. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. Fama. Ibid.. 49. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. 1966). Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. 1972). Confessio. 55. and even chart them astrologically. I have translated this work of Pordage. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. Ibid. 51. 255.681. and also written an extensive commentary on it. Resicrucian Enlightenment.A. 371. Frances Yates. op. p. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. See Josten. p. 56. Ashmole. 42. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. a musician.. p. Confessio. From von Welling.. 60. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 57.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest.. University of Texas at Austin. 260. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. diss. 242.. 43.O. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. see Donald Dickson. 1784). Ibid. p.
3. 1997). Warlick. Ibid. Religion. pp. . Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. 110. Ibid. p. 1926). S.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. 256. 10. see Versluis. See James Anderson. pp. p. 172–173. Faivre. cit.” 99–134. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. M. p. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. 240. Ibid. 6. 170–171. See M. 1967). 162–168. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 67. 1734). 414. 2. 268. Charge I.. E. 654. ed. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. See also Bernard Fay. 9. p. . Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne.. 417. . op. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. 68. pp. 71. See Edmond Mazet. 66–67. A. p. 5. 2002). “Freemasonry and Esotericism. M. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. D. Ibid. 247–249. O. Milosz. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. p. Ibid.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. See also Schuchard.. 1935). 1985). the Reformation. 4. 39. See George David Henderson. p. 1997). Franklin. 1992). See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. Ibid. (New York: Crossroad. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. citing B. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. Freemasonry. 409. and Margaret Bailey. ed. 191.. Ibid. CHAPTER THREE 1. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. Mazet. . 11. See Dickson. 66. See Marsha Keith Schuchard... 257–272. On Emerson and Hermeticism. p. 1992). and Albert Cherél. 7. Ibid. 2001). Revolution and Freemasonry. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. Paul: Grail.. changes. pp. 1948). 65. V de L. 1952). H. Brown. see also Max Ernst. 253. 8. (London [Philadelphia]: B. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history.. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. regulations . Sloane. pp. 170–171. pp. p. 70. p. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. 69. Hugh Trevor-Roper.
p. 210–211. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. 299–300. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. p. 1994).. p.. 206–207. op.’s] perspective. 40. D. Ibid. Milosz. 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.. 180–181. 14.. see Steven Bullock. 158). pp..” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. 17. 455. I. 469. Ibid. 27. 33. 2001). p. Ibid. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . Ibid. Ibid. pp.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. Ibid.. introduction by Albert Gelpi... p. I. 20. 22. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. pp. Milosz. 299. 204–205. 224–225. cit.. 19. 277. See Versluis. cit. p. 1981). 1982). p. Ibid.. Ibid. Susan Friedman. 1989). Ibid. H. 18. 25. 1985).164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. 464. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. 48–52. pp. 15. see Versluis.. 31. 303. 178–179. Friedman writes that “From her [H. 465. . 29. pp. 8–9. cit. 38. Ibid. ed. Ibid. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 1996). D.. See W.. .. of course. 21. Ibid. pp. pp. 182–183.. pp.. 174–175. 16. D. For the poet of the modernist era. 300. 39. 35. op. 37. . Ibid.. Ibid. 24. Ibid. Ibid. 34. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. Ibid. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala.. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions.. Ibid. p. 30. 32. 157–206. 26. pp. Milosz. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. pp. See Versluis. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. 248. Lib. For a more extensive study. 36. Ibid. 23. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Ibid...115. pp. 28. op. p. 41. Scott. pp. 13. pp. 296.. pp. 226–227. Milosz. p. 297–298. trs. The question.1 ff.
Ibid. p.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. 73. 46. 2001). pp.. 59. p. 57. p. Ibid. p.. 72. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 32.. Ibid...” 1.. E. p. Ibid. 169.” 30–31. 168. other authors we could consider here.. Ibid. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel .. “Tribute to the Angels.. pp. H. 58. Ibid. 9. 53.. 29. D. 165. p. H. Ibid. 24. Ibid. 75. 35. 66. 50.. There are. “Notes. 61. Ibid. p. 223. Irina Gutkin. 225–246. Ibid. 102. 13. See. 66. Rosenthal. D. 157. See M.. 51. 154–155. 1967). 271–272. Futurism.. 1997). Ibid. 156–159. 284–285.. The Gift. See H. Ibid. Kathleen Raine. 19. 47. 54. 65. Warlick. Kraus. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. 48. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring.. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. for documentation. 21... chief among them Gustav Meyrink.. H. 74. 68. 18. D. 70. D. D. Ibid. D. Rimius. Ibid. Ibid. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. 21. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. 39. ed.. of course. hereafter cited as TG. 20. pp. 1. 33. 62.” pp. 17–19. 56.. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. 63. 1989). 50. and I certainly recommend her article. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms.. rpt. p. 222. Ibid. ed.. p. as well as this entire collection of articles. Ibid. 49. Ibid. 70.. H. 23. Ibid. 55. see also. See Jane Augustine. 67.. These passages were transcribed by H. Ibid. Ibid. 259. 50–51. 1988). 1998). A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). See H. “Walls..” 17. Social Realism” in B.. 71.. 67. 20. 44. 69. 45. 52. 43. p. The Gift. D.. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.” on which see TG. 60. p. “The Walls Do Not Fall. pp. 64. Ibid.. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p..
. 102. 43. See Antoine Faivre. 91. Ibid. pp. B. Meditations. 104–104. 1814). Lewis.. Faivre. p. p. Ibid. 3 vols.. 94. Faivre. retained his magical regalia in his office.. 83.. pp. 87. op. cit. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). 78. pp.. 77. p. p. C. The Secrets of Dr. ed. 1993). Gareth Knight.. p. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. 40. 96. Ibid. 88. S. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. 89. 1990). in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. 21. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. (London: Quaritch. op. 10. Fortune. Ibid. 100. 127. 91.. 81. Dion Fortune. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. S. 70–71. 93.d. p. p. 85. 1994) p. and Meditations. Yeats. 90. p.. Ellis and W. 101. 80. See Collins. 1988) p. 92. 95. C.. pp. 1994). n.. p.. p. 87. cit. Dion Fortune. 76. 88.). 99. 1893). Gareth Knight. 197. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. 291. Collins. 102. noted hereafter as Vision. 103. Ibid.. p. 82. The Magical World of the Inklings. Ibid. p.. 20–21. p. 115. 323. I. 112. 320. Ibid. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. 40. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. See on this point. Poems. including Fortune’s. hereafter noted as Meditations. Lewis.. See for instance. so I have decided not to include them here. E. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. pp. 382. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. p. The Works of William Blake. Vision. 124–125.. 239. Ibid. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. 98. 84.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). 82–83. cit. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. Dion Fortune. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element.). Southey. 1994). Ibid.. 154. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Letters from England (London: Longman. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. 101. 86. p. op. Ibid. 1997). 79. p. Ibid. Collins. p.25. Ibid. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. p.. 97. Vision. 95. 322. p. . Ibid.
pp.. Ibid. 123.29–30. ed. 78.1. Toronto: 1948). 112. p. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. Ibid. 1994). 25 ff. 122. II. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. 1980). “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997).. Ibid. 1958). p. 109. Ibid. 93. Peter Erb. p. 105. 275 ff. Christosophia. Nicholas Berdyaev. Ibid. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. Ibid.1 ff. See Versluis. for example. I added the colors. 128.. 120. A. See. E. Ibid. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 105. Ibid.. pp.. p. 1997) p. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. 199. 285. See Charles C. p.. 62–63. 111. Socialist Realism. p. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 115. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 125. p. trs.” 108..D. 124. 63. Rosenthal.. 118. . 121. IV . p. 103. 94. Ibid. p..” and I. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. 71 ff. 106.. I. 127. pp. 1991).. p. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 116. p.. 114. Futurism. 107.. Ibid.. See also The Destiny of Man. 62. 194 ff. Diss. Ibid. p. 110. “Vorrede. Ibid. 129. 130.. p. Versluis. 74. Knapp. Freedom and the Spirit. Christosophia IV . Ibid. Ibid. p. p. Nishitani Keiji. forthcoming. 39. 113. p.. “Warnung an den Leser. Ibid. 106.. 119. 225.. Irina Gutkin. 1978).31. 117. 40 and pp. pp.31. 170. pp.” in B. 95. 1957). Ibid. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. 126. 108 ff.. 40..
154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 25 Apuleius. 68–71. 56 Bahir. 25 Ashmole. 75.E. 56 Baader. 5. 72 Consciousness. 51. 129. initiatory nature of. John. 82 Bacon. 78. 59 Dante. 57. 55–67. 96 Dee. 40 Bible. 5. 95. 61–62. 31. Emily.. René. Henry. 35–43. 30. 94. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 105 Christianity [origins of]. Jacob. William. 154 Dogen. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 148–150 Alchemy. 68. 24. 57 Beatrice. Franz von. 97. 141 Agrippa. 20. James. 154 Book of Life. 81 Bruno. 63 Anderson. 148 Barrett. 17 Blake. Elias. 28. Sir Thomas. 102. 75 Chivalry. 93. 64. 24.INDEX Abulafia. Roger. Abraham. 5. 27–28. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. Tibetan. Thomas. 152 Brahe. 42. 18. 139. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 46 Christ. 80 Böhme. John. 53 A. 81–82 Descartes. 52. 93. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 11 Dury. 40–41. 99 Dickinson. 1. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. Giordano. 80–82 Astrology. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 1 Collins. 22 Cordovero. 147 Buddhism. Geoffrey. 79 Backhouse. 2 Aurea Catena. 80. 56 Art. 2. 66 Corbin. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 150 Browne. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. John. 96 Berdyaev. 31 Basilius Valentinus. Arthur. Cecil. 129–135 Comenius. 97 Cremer. Moses. 28. 77 Bromley. 129. 81–82 Dee. 56 Amor Proximi. 47. 45 Chaucer. 137 Boethius. 89. Tycho. 10. 53. 76 Buddhism. 59. Abbot. 14. 141–142. ix. 82–83 169 . 28–29. Nicholas. 138 Basilides. 142. 53. 94. 140. 4. 143–144. 90. Heinrich Cornelius. William. 81. 63. 78. Francis. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 28. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah.
Edward. Mircea.170 INDEX Eckhart. 40 . Michael. 53. 104. Susan. Irina. 18–21. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. Victor Sogen. 89–103 Hermetism.. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. Wolfram von. 29 Mazet. Joseph Edward. Désirée.. 2. Nicholas. 126. 112 Lull. 56. 77 Flamel.S. 84. Georg Heinrich. 123. 122 Koan. 88-89. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. Johann Wolfgang. 138 Katz. 139 H. 151 Merswin. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus].S. 105 Eliade. 4. 107. 43–45. 104 Gichtel. 51 Islam. Brian. Jewish. 56 Jerusalem. 9 Eliot. Antoine. 127 Loskiel. 11 Hutton. 79–86. 153 Homer. ix. 82–83 Heidegger. Dion. 85 Merkabah mysticism. Johannes. 26–31. 2. 78 Gnosis. 137 Goethe. 46. 102 Lee. John Scotus. Jane. Ralph Waldo. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 25 Hinduism. C. 50. 8–9 Larronde. 101 Freemasonry. 111 Emerson. 103 Fuller. 89. 19 Faivre. 7–8. 55 Koran. 54. Steven. 1 Keeble. 50. Rulman. 101–102 Frey. 69 Franklin. 44. 83. Ramon. Max. 104. 2. 19. Jean. Robert. 90. Johann Georg. 2. 112 Imagination. 21. 80–81 Fortune. 46–52. 105. 140 La Fontaine. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 52–54 Kabbalah. 76. Benjamin. 120–122. 21 Heydon. 84 Lewis. 25 John. 1. 109. 27–28 Gnosticism. 100 Hirst. Martin. 42. Samuel. 5. 102 Ernst. 89. 9. 10–12. 120. Margaret. ix. Edmond. 8. 63.D. 127 Frankenberg. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. T. Gareth. Christian. 112 Friedman. Andreas. Book of. 95 Hartlib. Meister. 28. 100. 97. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. Francis. 82 Knight. 106 Eschenbach. 65. 72–73 Faust. 103. 123–126. 30. 21–22 Hermetica. 89. 19. 109 Hermeticism. John. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 56 Fludd. Abraham von. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 111 Geheime Figuren. 57 Eleazar of Worms. Albert. 7–8 Esotericism. 104. 35. 56 Maier. 22–24 Initiation.. 31 Melville. 75. 29 Hiram. Herman. Carlos. 76 Maistre. 12–15. 19–21. 100 Marcus. 99 Grail cycle. 5 Hori. 36–39 Gutkin. 140 Hippolytus. 68. Joseph de. 102 Leade. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 103–119 Hardenberg. 153–154 Eriugena. 77 Gelpi. 129 Kelley. 57–59. Jewish. 22.
53 Theosophy. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 40 Raine. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 94. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. Christian. 14–15. 140 Tao te ching. 39–40 Solovyov. René. 21. Book of. 51. sacred. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. Czeslaw. 99. 108. O. George. 19.V ix. 64 Roberts. 46. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange.. 53 Theseus. 103 Pyrlaeus. 53. 59. 76 Parzival. 53 Rilke. 154–156 Norton. 8 Rosicrucianism. 112–113 Morienus. 79. Paulus. 79. 141 . 102 Science [and the sciences]. 123 Poimandres. 19. 148 Seidel.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 60. Johannes. 105. 47. Emanuel. 2. 85. 67–69. J. 120. Bernadette. Joseph. 17. 2. 46. 5. 115. 57. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). Milton. 137. 70. Louis-Claude de. 18. 75–78 Paracelsus. 73. 66 New Age. 103. Gershom.R. William. 56 Origen. 47–48. 87–88. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 52 Piers Ploughman. 29 Pre-Socratics. 115. Blaise. Rainer Marie. 56 Swedenborg. 92. Gillaume. 152 . 136 Science and objectification. 48 Mysticism. 84 Pordage. Gospel of. 99. 23–26. 56. Marguerite. John. 99 Philip. 37–38 Pascal. 99 Scholem. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 139 Saint Martin. 116 Self. 4 Reuchlin. Johannes. 32. 52–53 Revelation. 25. 5. 116 Nature [concept of]. 99 Prospero. 118 Ramsay. 11 Russian literature. 150. 90 Milosz. 26–27 Moravians. 74. 40 Milosz. Sir Walter. 32 Plato. 4 Shakespeare. 90 Talmud. 76 Sufism. Jean. 140 Tauler. 92. 109. Martinez de. Vladimir.. Andrew Michael. 2 Postel. Kathleen. 140 Templars. Robert. 26 Tolkien. 115 Pythagoras. 152 Richter. 36. John. 68. 18. 9. 43 Synesius. Pierre. 58 Numbers. Gustav. 110 Southey. 99 Pasqually. Johann Christoph. Samuel. 63 Rici. 112 Ripley. 89–103. 90.R. 92. 69. 52 Pansophy. 64. Thomas. 69. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 114–115 Thenaud. 138 Stellatus. 108 Rimius. 71–76 Rousseau. 6 Sefer Yezirah. Marsha Keith. 105. 87–88. 148 Platonic archetypes. 63. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Jean. 13. 14. 56 Moses de Leon. 113. Henry. 5 Minotaur. 103. 89. ix. 21 Poiret. 84 Reading. 148 Radical ecology. 119 Raleigh. 50 Schuchard. 90 Porete.
79 Willermoz. Adam. Nicholas.. 101 Weishaupt. W.. ix. 110. 122–123 Williamson. 104. 106 Washington. 56 . 148 Zen Buddhism. 75 Yeats. George. 116 Yates. Hugh. Charles. 64. 137.E. 103. 89. 103. Egidio Cardinal. 88. 84 Williams. 140 Valentinus.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. 10. 9. 48. Georg von. 67–69 Upanishads. 82 Troubadours. 63. Frances. 103. 120. 156 Zinzendorf. Jean-Baptiste. ix. 53 Versluis. David. 55. M. 112–113 Zohar. 111 Warlick. 111. 31 Viterbo. 86 Welling. 10.B. 148 Zosimos. Arthur. 35–43 Ungrund. 2. 10. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric].
1956). 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. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. 2001).Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. Gnoses. along with its companion book. 1992).aseweb. In the voluminous Ésotérisme.org.. Theosophy. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 2000). 2 vols. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. 1998). 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 1994). (Leuven: Peeters. 1975). I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . 1998). 1998). important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert.msu. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad.esoteric. eds. 1992). (Graz: Akademische. Earlier. Imagination. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www.
2000).174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. 1994). edited by Brian Keeble. and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. Paul: Grail. 2002). 2001). as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1999). This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 1996). Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. Gnosis and Literature (St. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Paul: Paragon House. . 1996). Paul: Grail.
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