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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Art. and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s . Literature.Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism.
Title. literature. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. 2. paper) 1. photocopying. 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. Series. BF1411. II. For information. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. Albany. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. recording. mechanical.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. NY 12207 Production. 90 State Street. cm. Authur. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. address State University of New York Press. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. magnetic tape. I. 3. Anne M. Suite 700. Occultism in literature. art. p. Laurie Searl Marketing. Occultism in art. electrostatic.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . Occultism—History.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 . Rosicrucian. Pansophic.
Art. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature.
all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. C.. but the work’s focus remains Western.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. H. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. At the very least. Hence. V. ix . Milosz. S. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. literature. and Cecil Collins. but as the book took shape. 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. traditions. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. Lewis. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. O. figures. art. At the suggestion of an early reader. but in keeping with my original impetus. and consciousness itself. D. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. 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. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams.
and to Studies in Spirituality. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. 1994) and Meditations. © 1944 by Oxford University Press.). from Trilogy. including the adapted cover illustration.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. 1985).D.D.. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 2001).D. de L. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. V. xi . to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. Milosz. Poems. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. each of whom helped to make it a better work. from Trilogy. (Ipswich: Golgonooza. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. 1997). and to the editors of Gnostica 3. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O.). Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. Yet for this to take place. and otherwise. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. mutually 1 . provoking.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). or conveying spiritual experiences. and metaphysical or transcendent. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. artistic. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history.1 Here. These are not. the study of mysticism. but also. figures. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets.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.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. and one that has ramifications in many directions. are now appearing. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. In this book. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. however. even apophatic mysticism. religious.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. and perhaps even more critically. literary. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos.
Yet these traditions. astrology. philosophical. Christian theosophy. including alchemy. mysticism. above all this is a book about knowing. Here. In essence. magic. In particular. or gnosis. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. Undoubtedly. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. or Hermeticism. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. or convey spiritual awakening. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. examples of it include alchemy. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. Rather. . this must be our primary focus. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. Like the koan. astrology. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. But the time for such biases is past. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. magic. Christian gnosis. theosophy. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. however disparate. do have certain characteristics in common. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. and social histories.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. Jewish Kabbalah. that is what this book is about. and about how we come to know. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. Freemasonry. 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. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. Not at all. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. of course. Rosicrucianism. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. provoke. left out of literary. however. religious.
when a panoply of religions. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. we find on the social front. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. At the same time on the religious front. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. and to understand their patterns and meaning. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. nature. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. and to alternative forms of spirituality. and cults existed side by side. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. And underlying these is. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. when we look at Western societies. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. in my view. In many respects.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. the Western esoteric traditions. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. our time resembles the early Christian era. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. Western esotericism is. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. To navigate one’s way through these movements. therefore. of course. a vast field. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. and there are many treasures to be found there. Thus. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. about reading the stars. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. . despite their often almost bewildering variety. sects. For as we will see. which is often seen either as outdated.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. what their predecessors are. By looking more closely at the origin. proliferating wildly.
but with consciousness itself.’ that is. The word gnosis. 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. in other words. we have developed machines that ‘read. also about union. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. The mystery of reading is.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. we enter into another’s world. When we read a novel. of course.’ itself a metaphor for our time. reading here guides one toward gnosis. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. and heaven. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. minerals and stars. however. when we read the works of an Emerson.’ Unexamined here. imaginatively enter into different lives. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. What is more. and ultimately with the divine. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. In every experience of literature. is much deeper than it might at first appear. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. 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. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. we feel as someone else feels. And when we read a great poem. Likewise. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. refers to spiritual knowledge. and each requires the other. purgatory. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. and will require much elaboration. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. or spiritual knowledge. but can be transmuted. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. But we can at least begin by considering how reading is largely regarded today as nothing more than the accumulation of information through decoding writing—indeed. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. why do we travel with . If there are great writers. By contrast.
but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. and essays. What is more. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. Rather. drama. We make connections. 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. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. and where we are going. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. we understand. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light.” 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. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. fiction. where we are from. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. not about accumulating more information. 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 travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. like so many others. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. 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. and when we read them.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later.
but also the even more primal act of knowing. everything. 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. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. but for connection and union. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. 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. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. living divorced from humanity. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. it suffuses our language. and everything becomes a matter of techné. and particularly literature. Those studying the humanities. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. in that to follow such a path means that one has to leave behind modern objectifying preconceptions of how one is separate from nature and the divine. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . finally. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. one based not on division but on union. In this respect. as if catalogic. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. nature. and the divine. indeed. or manipulation. For objectification has permeated all of modern society.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. 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. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. By contrast. people most of all. quantitative. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. most notably Western esoteric traditions. from which we believe that we are separate. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. the way we see the world. grounded in spirituality. including people. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything.
the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. and so to maintain clarity. 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. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. and so forth. so too that choice still exists today.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. But the fact remains that there are also figures. In Western Europe. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. 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. Indeed. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. however. The reader. and consciousness. crystals. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. . 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. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. works. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. alone with an author. And in North America as well. and groups in Western European and North American history.6 Subsequently. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. literature. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. And indeed. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods.
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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-
The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. 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. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. joined to a view of Zen Buddhism as a way of escaping the pollution of society and language back to an original pureness beyond language. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. however. At one time. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. I believe. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. through language and image. then it is a breakthrough not out of. but into conventional consciousness . Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. Freedom in fact lies in gravity.”11 This is. . From this viewpoint. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. 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. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. not beyond it.” 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. . eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. in his Shobogenzo. 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. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening).
I believe. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. 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. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. I am arguing that in the West. and thus also to the individual. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. Rather. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. for that matter. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. The koan derives its name from a judicial term.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. as in individual daydreams. 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. Rather. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. 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. Like the koan. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. as I will propose here. frustrating though this may be. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. This is not to say that the West had or. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. 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. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. What makes Western esotericism different above all. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. as means of initiation. By . but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind.
it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. For instance. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory.12 As a result.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. it is for the few.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. 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. Obviously. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. Imagination. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. This work is circumscribed. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. in other words. the action by the act of reading or viewing. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . it is not for a general readership. literary or otherwise. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. the images. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. For example. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. guide.
” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. graspable solution to a koan. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer.’ 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. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. But there is a third perspective. 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. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. Yet if we answer “yes. not one’s own. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. which is what I am proposing here. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. in other words. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity.” The gnostic. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. and this too presents problems. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. Initiates. Sympathetic readers. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. 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. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. to understand them.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. and nothing less. and 3. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. who enter into a work imaginatively. but here a new magical earth is brought . 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. 2.
taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. This. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. The realm of the imagination. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. in sum. is by its very nature one of co-creation. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. . What is more. to the divine power within that creates. then. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. This intermediate or mesocosmic state is precisely what allows Pordage’s treatise to be initiatory for the reader: his work is a guide to his own gnostic experience. but resides in a continuum between the two. 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. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. In other words. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts.
central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. however. is profoundly different. the Book of Revelation. The other kind of writing. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. what we may call a 17 . of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. needless to say. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. and. we must begin in antiquity. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. From relatively early on. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. and resurrection. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. Here. death. And to find these themes. This. 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. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost.
not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. legal. The gnostics. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. . and indeed. on the other hand. and mythic. and on the other. or historical. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. the Word was not literal but spiritual. symbolic. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. of course. By contrast. for instance. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. so rare—in fact. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. an ahistorical. we can see how anomalous it is. should it be ahistorical. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. 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. that one can easily list them. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. be it scientific. Consider. Of course. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. revelatory emphasis.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. literal. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. or technological. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. the development of Buddhism. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. multilayered approaches. as throughout world religious traditions. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. In Christianity.
but of communication.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. the seeds of all things. In general. who are worthy of it. here it is vertical. Who was rejected as heretical. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. 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. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. and who else was accepted as orthodox. that is. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. and spiritual illumination. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. however much their literalist opponents think differently. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. just . And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. but such an approach is not for everyone. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. one is in touch with inconceivable power. asceticism. chiefly vowels. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. it is reserved for those who are capable of it.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. Likewise. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. and communion. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. For instance. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. a means not for one equal to convey information to another.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. true pronunciation. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash.
Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. as principles of creation itself. and macrocosmically. are a means to creation’s redemption. thereby making this conflict inevitable. then. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries.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. Letters and numbers. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. 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. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. but if the letters were properly restored. as does the creation of images. one finds that from the very beginning of our era the very same elements conduce also to a wide spectrum of gnoses and hence to angelic polytheism and to nontheistic gnosis in which the very concept of God is transcended. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. through images. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. inconceivable power would be set loose. paradoxically conveyed often through . and we may recall that Dionysius the Areopagite devoted some effort to discussing how the divine may best be symbolized by unexpected and even grotesque images that keep us from mistaking a beautiful image for the thing itself. The letters. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. and so forth. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. so the letters were altered. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. basilisks.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. and contain within them the seeds of the perennial struggle in all three forms of monotheism between those who take the word literally and those who advocate gnosis. and so forth. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. All of this is to suggest that there was in antiquity in Jewish and Christian esoteric circles a very widespread gnosis of language which was grounded in writing. we 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. such images represent divine aspects. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine.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 in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition.
is self-evident. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations.” (X. of the mysteries tradition. presented in the form of dialogues. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. Poimandres. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing.” From the very beginning.” but not like an ordinary sleep. in the first centuries of this era. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. In at least some respects. 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. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light.25). This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries.” the being. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic.” the “voice of the Light. tells him. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). letter. which were also about death and resurrection. in symbols and myths. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. There is no one author of the Hermetica. out of which emerges a “holy Word. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. number. “I know what you wish.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. “for I am with you everywhere. “there is communion between soul and soul. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence.22b) . And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. but share elements in common with all three.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing.
but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. mercurial quality to it. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. Platonism. 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. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. However. Like Hermes himself. what we find is something quite different. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. always there is a fluid. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. For from what we have said. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. yet not strictly philosophical either. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s.” “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. Christian esotericism. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. traditions. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. or direct knowledge of the divine. and Hermetism. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. they certainly intermingled. the mystery traditions. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. and there is a witness to the revelation. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. and .22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. It is. but this revelatory quality differs markedly from what we see in Plato and bears far more in common with what we find in some Gnostic treatises of revelation. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. then. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. Indeed. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries.
a door was opened in heaven. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . he is told to eat. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. an elder tells him to weep not. There are. apparently visionary time. turned. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. present. Although the vision has a beginning. and does eat. in other words. and behold. once introduced to this sequence. and where the earthly past. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. and only then. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. and in the tenth chapter. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. in the fourth chapter. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. he sees the twenty-four elders. mythology. . an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. when he eats the book. of course. and behold. questions. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. And immediately I was in the spirit. came the following: “After this I looked. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). .” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. Above all. Then.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. and the auditory part of the vision began. off the Greek coast. Yet interestingly.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. and one sat on the throne. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. I believe that literature. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. quite well known. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. when he weeps. a throne was set in heaven. However. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. and he interacts with them. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. but take place in their own time. where John meets. saw and heard these things. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. or field of the imagination. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. a little book sweet as honey. John. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. Rather. At one point. a mesocosm. beginning with the Revelation to John. and future are visible.
24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. we will recall. the Book of Revelation of St. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism.” during these the end times. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book.13). The Revelation. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. there are “other books. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. In the tenth chapter. 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. Christian Gnosticism. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. in other words. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. and by eating the book. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. and finds it bitter in his belly. found in Judaism. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. One. Taken together.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. 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). angels. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. all remind us of the prior traditions. twelves. and one hundred forty-fours. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. which he does. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references.12). John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. John is given a little book to eat. And then there is. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. but sweet as honey on his lips. a gnostic encounter with elders. becoming symbolically charged. Additionally. of course. and Hermetism. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. John is united with its knowledge. of course. 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.9). and are in a sense initiates. Every aspect of life is altered.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. But for our purposes. the very book that we are reading. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work.
and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. and of James and of Adam. seen by a seer. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. Rather. at the mystical tradition. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. including the two books of Enoch. a hearer. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. at the Kabbalistic tradition. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. Yet because it became canonical. the Ascension of Isaiah. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. and what is seen. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. it is an image. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. profoundly symbolic numbers. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. 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. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. the Revelation does not stand alone. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. all of which belong to the apocrypha. words. At the same time. where an encounter may take place. Of course.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. 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 . and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. splendid earthly form: but again. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. and what is heard. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity.
a constellation of letters and numbers. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. objectifying it. to the transcendent. So it is with the story of Theseus. Esoteric literature. often in a simple story. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . of being charged. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. we are drawn toward it. The analogy of electricity. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. as wild as the book of Revelation. to make it one’s own. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. it is certainly not the only one. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. more electric. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. and exists more for entertainment. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. for although the Revelation is the most well known. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. In other words. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. 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. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. ranging from external to internal.’ of participation. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. far more than may at first appear. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. or put better. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. how hieroeidetic a work is. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. without relevance to oneself. or from exoteric to esoteric. And though we risk being burned. 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.
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 read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. embody. there is earthly marriage.xxxvi). This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature.”3 In other words. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. words. although we refer to them by the same names. 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. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. or one will . VI. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. not opposite or even complementary ways. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. we participate in what they represent. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. As we ‘read’ these images. This linguistic mysticism was represented in Gnostic practice by a secret initiation that consisted in the whispering of holy words of power into the ear of one who had been tested. and its light “never sets. and in religious experiences. which is of a totally different order. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. Indeed. but different aspects of the same way. This name was composed of four syllables. in dreams. or who was faithful and near death (Ref.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. we become intimate with them. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. and the entire name had thirty letters. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. the first of which had four letters. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. we find plays on naming and namelessness. and numbers emerge in. and reveal transcendence. For instance. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. 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. in the Gospel of Philip. sacred images. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. or aeon.
divided consciousness. but its inseparable companion. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. . but to inherent characteristics of what is named. when one dies. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. but rather. for the aeon is fullness for him. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. Here naming refers. The nameless and the named are not divided. I do not mean to suggest that there is a direct current of influence running from relatively obscure works like the Gospel of Philip or the lost writings of Basilides into medieval and modern times. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. elusive. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. gnostic paradigms. The cosmos is no longer opaque. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. is. the unnameable. not to arbitrary designations. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. one has already experienced the mysteries for oneself by ‘reading’ and receiving the truth in the images—not only the images of sacred words or symbols. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. characteristic ways of understanding. not hidden in the darkness and the night.”4 In other words. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. for such a one the world is transparent. indeed. evokes. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. Rather. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. 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. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. The world has become the aeon. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. but is free in life and in death. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names.
Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths.”6 There is in Saint-Martin’s work a peculiar kind of mystical mathematics from which it is evident that here is indeed an order of knowledge entirely different from the merely quantitative. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. but men have sometimes lowered them to it.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). By contrast. a third characteristic. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. on which conventional mathematics is founded. of the different properties of beings. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. Here. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria.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. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. in his own degree. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. . But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. They are only the sensible expression. A fourth characteristic is imagery. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. however. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. On the lowest level. and are visible in major European literary works. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. nor wholly from without. Out of the gnoses of numbers. including Piers Ploughman. separated from the subject who sees. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. According to rational consciousness. everyone. whether visible or intellectual. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. Even more intimately yet. . of course. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. without masters. letters. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. my dear brother. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. which is the mystery of words and of the book. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. which all proceed from the one only essence . to which I have already devoted some study. More intimately. woven together into a . and therein we obtain the pure key. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. What is more. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate.
The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. images.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. . To read such a work properly is to ingest it. and images. numbers. and traditions best express his understanding. 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. words. Christian. Its mysteries of names. Jewish and Christian and Greek. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. in one form or another. often do not hold at all. but also to convey it. Roman. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. Greek. 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. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. Egyptian. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. letters. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. to become it. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. whether. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. By following the courses of Western esotericism. taken together. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. from antiquity to the present. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. words. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world.
and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. The knight in swearing fealty to his lord is engaged in a social relationship that can also have spiritual implications: to act properly as a knight is also to fulfill one’s higher responsibility as a warrior for the divine. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. The troubadour. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. of course. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. sees her (or him. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages.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. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. 35 . but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. in giving honor to his beloved. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere.
perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. never explicitly discussing. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises.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. Of course. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. or love’s faithful. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. likewise. Instead. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. . I think. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. that is to say.E. is no. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. Much more likely that here. for example. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. But when we look at these movements as a whole. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. 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. particularly the chivalric tradition. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. even surreptitious. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery.
But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. but there is another source. a hermit. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. noble angels. whence had come the Grail. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. worthy. there is no need to erase it. . and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. For instance. teacher of Eschenbach. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. and has a rich reward in heaven.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. Hearing this. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. then the chivalric life is his one desire. occupying a middle ground between these. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. He found that a man named Flegetanis. In any event. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. and to whom God sends his angel. we are told. Naturally. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. both pagan and Christian. those who did not take sides. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). For. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. for the name disappears. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. that is. and this is the mystery of names. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. but God may have taken them back. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. 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.
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. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. of course. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. remains this-worldly in emphasis. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . in particular. then their sorrows would end. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. Rather. For instance. 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. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. And at the book’s conclusion. He was to ask. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. When inevitably she does so. and that is the exalted position of women. and that of all the Grail servers. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic.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. but also with the changing of the moon. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. Saturn to suffering. entertaining. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. Throughout the tale. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. we will recall. Parzival.” chiefly Saturn. The Grail. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. just as is Western esotericism more generally. of course. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. the knight is told by Feirifiz. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. Yet this implicit esotericism. and if he asked a Question. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. like chivalric literature more generally. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. the spotted knight. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. and at the end of the tale. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. we are told to honor women. then naming them one by one in Arabic. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is.
in the image of the pentangle. and. Once again. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. continence. 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. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. like several others in the poem. 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. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. loving kindness. 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. the five virtues. part of a tradition that. When Gawain. as I have elsewhere shown. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. in Gawain as in Parzival. the number of maidens serving the Grail.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. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. courtesy. these being liberality. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. First. And this green marks my second point of observation. Gawain’s symbol. he ultimately feels shamed. Yet in the story’s conclusion. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 39 ness and otherworldliness in the service of one’s chivalric duties and of the Grail is the key to chivalric literature more generally. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. the poem. but with the five fingers. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. of course. with the five wounds of Christ. At the end of Gawain. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. marking why Gawain is a fine man. the first is the true knot. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. This famous passage. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. and piety. is marked with a tiny colored initial.
being found in Islam associated with Khidr.” The Friends of God were. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. to be renewed. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. yet at the same time. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. green is the color of nature. growth.” or “the Green Isle. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. like the chivalric orders. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . Gawain.”] Or again. perhaps cunning can. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. One does find esoteric themes. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. and the illicit. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. the hidden divine messenger.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. This same duality inheres in the color green. and renewal. Or again. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. yet it is also the symbol of new life. although a lay group. not monastic or priestly. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. pus nons val arditz.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. become beautiful and haunting lyrics.
and here. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. calls upon the “book of memory. In De consolatione. La Vita Nuova. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. with a final vision about which he will not now write. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. like the great Divine Comedy. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. this time wearing a white dress.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. is a visionary poem. poems. who lived during the fifth century. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. thrice-blessed Lady. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. Dante ends this strange work. philosophical.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. of course. but the faculty of imaginal perception. an intervening figure in the tradition. as in the Divine Comedy. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . Thus Dante’s greatest works. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. albeit more literary. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. as does the play that we see here on naming. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. full of images. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. 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. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. Boethius. and his commentary. and exactly nine years later. time. And of course. This is. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. we end by passing beyond space. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. Dante sees Beatrice again. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. and words and ideas into the empyrean. of course. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. 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. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. There is. in the ninth hour of the day.
but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. however. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. And these are evoked . and of divine service. Here. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. But all the same. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. here.” with “festes. marked east and west by gates of marble. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. with an oratory. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. the theater of art. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus.” and by “kervere of ymages. Chaucer. instrumentz. Earthy. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. 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. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. knarry.” “gastly for to see. caroles. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. The two medieval currents we have been discussing here—the chivalric and the troubadour traditions—meet in two final figures whose work we must consider here—Geoffrey Chaucer (ca.” In that “portreiture. especially of the knight for his lady.” Thus this tale.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. We see in Chaucer’s tale. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. Like Dante. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. Chaucer was not an esotericist. yet he went further. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. daunces” around her. above all.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. known as a primary literary figure in English history. bareyne trees olde.
unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. For although Lull. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. The lover answered. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. Ars brevis. (part of his romance Blanquerna). was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. was prolific. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates.” The Art represents. and this is no accident. In fact. (a kind of chivalric code). in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. In the ninety-ninth chapter. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. not just a set of correspondences. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. but with the advent of rationalism. “knowledge” and “remembrance. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. literature is not only entertainment. one for each of the 365 days of the year. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. and of course his most well-known and influential works. Lull. we are given the meditations of the hermit. 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. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. Not surprisingly. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. bringing together the chivalric. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. until he was thirty. These terms. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. The Book of Contemplation. on the first page of the Book of the Lover and the Beloved—these terms representing a favorite motif of Sufi poetry throughout the centuries—we find a direct reference to Sufism itself. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. and indeed.” are familiar to students of . which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. and Ars generalis ultima. given its astonishing scope. troubadour. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. At this juncture. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. like Chaucer. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature.
Originally.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. and that is the book. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. Here we find a clear condemnation. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. whose influence extended across Europe. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. most of all in the exposition of his art. invoking evil spirits as good angels. 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. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. The cosmos represents the divine writing. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. rather than my Beloved in the world. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. Of course. By means of these letters. we are also participating in this relationship. This extraordinary art. Further. all errors are implanted in the world. and writings in themselves. since my Beloved contains all. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- .” In this falsified knowledge. and images. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. not of figures. and profaning holy things with figures. images. and writings. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. west. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. north and south. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. but of those done with the wrong attitude. that is. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. Lull used more letters. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular.’ They asked him. images. ‘Yes. And through presumption.’”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.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. out of arrogance or presumption. and by writings. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. However. just as the writer is in his book. but for purposes of clarity. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. as the readers of Lull’s book. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations.
difference. for instance. which are seen in both traditions as transcendent principles the combination of which can ultimately bring us to and reveal the inner nature of the divine. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. for example. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. or that from the Ars brevis. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. God. For instance. Of course his work is unique. . and so forth. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. Hence in many respects. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. has vast implications. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. “goodness. prudence. For this reason. emerging as it did largely in a Spanish ambience perfectly suited to the meeting not only of the primary currents of medieval Christian esotericism—including the chivalric and troubadour—but also of Islamic and Jewish esotericism. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. whether?. B—Bonitas. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. 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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. trees.” C signifies “greatness. I— Veritas.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. In the full art. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. B signifies. found in the Ars compendiosa. The Lullian art is a means of working with letters and words as a way of entering into transcendent consciousness of the inner metaphysical principles informing and transcending the human and natural realms. The Lullian art. it includes and transcends logic. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. and avarice. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. concordance. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. Lull himself combined them using circles. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. angel. tables. and gluttony. depending upon how the letters are combined. triangles. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. At the same time. what?. E—Potestas. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. and numerous other arrangements. justice.
there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. Rather. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. troubadour. And as literature. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. and Lullian traditions lived on far past their apparent demises: all of them fed into the emergence of the Western esoteric traditions that began to flower in the seventeenth century. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. intricately woven. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. 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. the chivalric. but this is virtually never the case. the words. but what is more. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. French. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). Christian. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. 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.or eighteenth-century German. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. Rosicrucianism. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. and Freemasonry. or English gnostic. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. of course. however. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. . 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. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. It is. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth.
And in fact.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. number. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. terminology. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. a work that Gershom Scholem insists “cannot be explained on the basis of the tradition of philosophic thought in Judaism or as a product of its decline. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. and Kabbalism more generally. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word.E.” Scholem concludes.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. dating to the Talmudic period. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. but also in that they consciously sought to keep this tradition hidden from the general public even while composing copious works that derive from the long tradition of interconnections between literature and religion. . It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. For instance. and elsewhere in Europe. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours.8 But for our purposes. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. and cosmogony. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. for instance. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. Castile. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. and thus Kabbalism. But the Bahir. “The affinity with the language.9 Yet at the same time. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. The book Bahir. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. disclosing them only in parabolic language. also may have roots elsewhere.
spiritual. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. the tonal accents. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. but here takes on the meaning of “com- .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.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. but another view. For example. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew.” Indeed. 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. informing the cultural. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. caught up in the spirit. including the human body. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. 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. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. 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. But in any event.” (that is. writing the Names of God) and through this power.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. In section 124. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. and natural realms at once.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. which comprise a total of 613 letters. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be.11 Of course. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. as a female is fertilized from the male. for example. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. said to symbolize the abdomen. supported by some contemporary testimony. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition.
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. action . is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. voice. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. but My Face will not be seen. or aleph.”18 This. Here. . in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. .”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. speech. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. utterance.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. Through this kind of multiplication. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life. yet when these Names are removed. inquiry .” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. from reading this extraordinary work. in this context.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. corresponding to yod.”17 By investigation. 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.” 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. we are told.” about which no one.” which may or may not itself be an “a. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. not even Moses. . forty. For instance. and yod in turn becomes twenty.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. is allowed to ask questions. an ¯ “ether. all are found in this Name. 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.”14 In other words. whispering.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. . made transparent so . in the Fountain of Wisdom. the tenth letter. all comprehension and thought. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. eighty. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. so to say. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. out of it emerges the Names. the essence of everything. and 160. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt.” One can easily see. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations.
as Scholem remarks. All of these exist. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. is not only cosmological. ’En sof literally means “infinity. emerges. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. then. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. Medieval Kabbalism. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. but also metaphysical. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. but from the other. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. not from this side. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. 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. sometimes without. broadly speaking.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness.’ Only that which lives in any particu- .20 For that matter. including thought. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. that of hardened or congealed materiality. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech.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. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. 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. Indeed.
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
In the eighteenth century. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. . its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. And when we look at Kabbalism. In the twentieth century. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. after all. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. Indeed. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. For Kabbalah. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. intricacy. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. Spain. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. which is. To such approaches. that ultimately all beings will be saved. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. that is. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. or vice versa. however unfamiliar to us today. and beauty. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. where one finds literature and religion fused. ramified throughout religious and literary history. Such an approach to literature. literature represents portals into the transcendent. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. much less the possibility of transcendence.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. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. But before discussing these implications. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. surface is nothing and depth is everything. Here. or vice versa.
operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. we cannot help but notice religious references. to work it through. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. itself also highly literary: the koan.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 55 T H E T R A N S F I G U R AT I O N O F E A R T H : A L C H E M I C A L L I T E R AT U R E Undoubtedly among the most enigmatic traditions of the human inheritance. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. as the “art of Hermes.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. When we look at European alchemical works. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. alchemy. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. hence on the one hand religious. However. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication.’ yet not entirely Christian. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. like the alchemical expression or riddle. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. Indeed. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. as we saw earlier. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. So too. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. . on the other transmitted by way of literature. To the first-time observer. not entirely ‘pagan. Of course. forces one to wrestle with it alone.
Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). at heart. alchemical literature. be they in the mineral. the embodying of spirit. . in the revelation of paradise. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. thirteenth century). plant. 825–932 C.E. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world.E. All of these authors did write on alchemy. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. Synesius. and Morienus of the seventh century C. Olympiodoros. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist.. 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.. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. and takes place by way of fire. George Ripley (fifteenth century). For alchemy extends into many realms. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. either. After all.—latinized as Rhazes). Roger Bacon. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. Thus. or al-Rhazi (ca. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. and the spiritualizing of the body. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. One places oneself in the line of what is. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. the vegetable. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. that is. as has historical placement. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. Indeed. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. put another way. a tradition transmitted through literature.E.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. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. even if it does not entirely belong to these. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. 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. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. even if its work resembles these in some respects. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. or the animal kingdom. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. Ramon Lull.
He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. If thou knowest the substance and the method. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. composer. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. were.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod.” that is. and gave it to us by mighty toil. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. and are to come. bracketed by mythological references.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). physician. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . Maier. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. Thomas Norton. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. . seek not many utensils for thy labor. “The Golden Tripod. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. of course. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. it is enough. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. . His title. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. and thou knowest all. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. in his preface. Here. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. Indeed.” In other words. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. and author Michael Maier. . which Vulcan cast into the sea.
”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. a king and a queen. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. to be invisible. . while the Moon. and it is clear from what Valentinus himself writes that he devoted himself intensely to “the study of the powers and virtues which God has laid into metals and minerals: and the more I searched the more I found. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do.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. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. on the far left side a single candle. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. over a fire. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. being bereft of images . while around him are various figures. in the background a dead tree stump. and proved of the greatest efficacy. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. the king bearing a staff. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. the Sun. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. . and that which is palpable.” pleads the case of her husband.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. and to the queen’s left. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. to become impalpable . and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. the queen a three-flowered plant. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. that which is visible. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. Here you see the perfection of our Art. is at once literary and practical. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal.” With its spiritual essence. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. and this Mars has done.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. despite its elliptical means of expression. including two archers shooting at targets. Shortly thereafter. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. before him a burning barrel. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. a half-naked man with a scythe. as well as an angel blowing a horn. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun.
and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. Such. strong and pure.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. and two of willow charcoal. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. his last testament. and tortured for four years. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. and so was let go. of course. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. 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 can understand why he should impose such conditions. Dalton said he was happy to die. Cremer in this. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. two of living sulphur. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. of . 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. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue.”35 And indeed.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. we are told. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. In recent times. so as not to lose legibility over time. and prepared in about four days. a man named Herbert. two of orange arsenic. three of rabusenum. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton.
so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. and animal realms. its subtle essence.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. Confronted with such a colloquy.’ then. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. one branch of alchemy. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. And of course. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. air. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. Through these evestra. 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. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. Imagination governs the development of things. one may know the inner nature of anything. allegories. But in any event. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. but is joined with them in the imagination. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. for they occupy different dimensions within it. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. According to Paracelsus. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. not only by looking at words on a page. not all evestra are benefic. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . to carry it within. poems. Of course. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. not merely from the outside and as other. fire. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. Paracelsus tells us. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. literary allusions.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. but also through the power of the imagination. vegetable. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. then. Spagyric medicine. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. epigrams. We may ‘read. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. To say. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. ethereal counterparts. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man.
This is the true Ground of Nature . which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. . light air. 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. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. these two poles became further separated. more real than what we see in the physical. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry.” and to a host of Biblical references.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. including Romans 1. the true medicine and theology. It is as though here alchemy. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. while others. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. . wine. like Valentinus’s. and mist. Of course. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. . geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. philosophy. 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. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. it is entirely real. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. a matter of . as a spirit. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. like Cremer’s testament. may be interpreted in both ways at once. . 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. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). but that in this particular worldview. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. Genesis 1:27. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. indeed. but here are clearly spiritualized. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. The terms used in its title—oil. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. II Chronicles 13:5. and so forth.74). But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. emphasize their recipe quality.
for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. Yet alchemy. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. Oil. . Here we find no interest in historical explanations. Salt. the author writes “That the earth is dark. easily translates into a dominant religion.105). the depths. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. However. that is the mystery wherein all lies. just as we find for instance Islamic . Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. and one three .83). traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. a true Astrologus. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. inward dimension. And so we find the three One. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. like Hermeticism. of existence. but here. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. as a kind of counterpoint. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. Fire. we are told.80). and when either one is absent.93). but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi.83). what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. In fact. spiritual dimensions of the work.77). is a perspective that is all depth. nor whence they emerge (II. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. for instance. or Water is. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. Thus. in harmony” (II. Water. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. Oil. and a true Medicus. but the Sun light. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. . these terms have an alchemical provenance.
and he and his spiritual circle. Pordage’s work. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. of the second. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735).” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. and of the third. astrological. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. not merely a pastiche. on mercury. 1675). Kabbalah. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. of course. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. What makes this work most remarkable is the unity of this synthesis: it is clear that von Welling had in mind an all-encompassing worldview emerging from a deep union of these traditions. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. and Kabbalistic themes. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. beginning with the organization of the first section. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. on sulfur. astrology. Christian theosophy. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. But such rumors aside. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. The implication. Indeed. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. on salt. Within each of these broad sections are individual chapters whose content begins with chemical or alchemical topics and moves through these to theosophic or gnostic themes such as “The urangelical world. from spiritual to physical. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. and gnostic metaphysics. including “Chymie” or alchemy. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). This is not . But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical.
and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. in other words. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). das himmlische Manna genannt. “Alchimische Fragen. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. . the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. but might well also be called pansophic. Indeed.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. 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 . next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. sulfur. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework.” “Cherubim. to properly prepare mercury. Here.” and so forth. with a plethora of astrological symbols. and instructions. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. and in this regard he succeeded. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. diagrams. . Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). For instance. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). tables. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. 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. charts. diagrams. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety.” “Thronen. or mercury. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. then in a Liquorem . meaning the transcendent Godhead. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named.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. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. Christian scripture. . including D.” Further. he elided many details. of Pisa. and calcify it by hand. At the same time. . Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical .
or grammars. 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. both seek to perfect this creativity. In some respects. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. for example. water. and that we will shortly examine further.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. Alchemy. is a relatively modern phenomenon. so that everything—mineral. we can easily see. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. letters. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. as well as with what these represent. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. alchemy is like learning to use a language.’ There is. air. of course. Alchemy. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. a natural homology between alchemy and art.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. including not only chemicals and equipment. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. and images. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. however far-reaching. of course. Thus we may well say that. recipes. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. One must learn both to ‘read. vegetable.’ in the broadest possible sense. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. animal. but also in the microcosm of the artist. In this sense. fire. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. but even more in the perfection of humanity. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . requiring long familiarity with special symbols. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. like a painting. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. Here. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. and to ‘write. broadly seen.
alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. and the restoration of the right . were one to decipher what x and y mean. This is by no means to suggest. in the manner of a mathematical equation. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. In alchemy. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. Indeed. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. and science are one. 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. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. between the observer and that which is observed. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. nature. 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. one would have the solution. I would use the word decoding. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. literature. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. In Christian terms. like those of science. and the divine in ever more profound ways. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence.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. Oral commentary by a master is important.’ in the case of alchemy. It is true that more recently theorists. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. no doubt of that. humanity. However. religion. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. humanity. Rather. both of physics and of literary criticism. and the divine. Here in alchemy. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. between subject and object. The ‘solution. 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. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. Contemporary views of literature. But in alchemical works. like Jung. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. extends into a range of realms at once.
R O S I C R U C I A N . precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. 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. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. As we have seen. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. pansophy. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. against ourselves. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. So it is with alchemy. PA N S O P H I C . nineteenth. and twentieth centuries. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. in particular Christian theosophy. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Indeed. 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. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. especially during the eighteenth. but in relation to a host of other currents. in the modern era. and against the divine. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. between the sciences and the . divided against the world. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . In the study of Western esotericism. and Freemasonry. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. We should also keep in mind the growing split. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. Rosicrucianism. 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. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity.
near Poland. archaeology. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. to name only a few of the most luminary. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. The Copernican revolution. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. and drawing from his visionary experiences. this sense of unity dissolved. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. a city on the eastern side of Germany. However. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. including. the discovery of more complex technology. illustration and literature. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. chemistry. in Western esotericism we find. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. But Western esotericism. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. quite the opposite movement. and geology. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. as well as De Signatura . the emergence of biology. rather than seeking to separate. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). physical chemistry from metaphysics. practiced medicine and astrology. at least in the secular world. or Aurora. explored theology and metaphysics. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. and Franz von Baader. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. medicine and astrology. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. the fields of alchemy. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. our approach being thematic. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. in the arts. nor is that our aim. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. say. Indeed. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. in the sciences. It is true that. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. John Pordage. wrote literary works. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. and in religion. Rather. comparative and syncretic.
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
and this is the “book M. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. R. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. R.” however. they could collect Librum Naturae. C.. like its complement the Confessio. like us. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . if not universalism. and why he is called Microcosmos. 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. Indeed. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions.. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. R. But in any event. R. “or a perfect method of all arts. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. Hermeticism. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. according to the Fama. caused a great stir in Europe. generally speaking.”46 When C. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. are to be collected by the wise.” into good Latin from Arabic. Not coincidentally. even if at times such orders did exist. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. The Rosicrucians’ goal. returns eventually to Germany. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. translates the “book M.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. And of course this brief work. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. in the Orient. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge.” These “Books of Nature. of Christian theosophy as well.” C. and later. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection.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).44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. For from the very beginning of the Fama. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital.
”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. and come into our brotherhood. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. than that which is the head and sum. and shall be) hath been. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. and hidden to the wicked world. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. .”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. so that no one might later be deceived. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. . . are now. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. first.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. Yet once again. Interestingly. wish. and by them was made the magical language and writing. recur as well in the Confessio. like the book. The description is often hard to follow. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. it is to read the universal book. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. . and arts. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. every one with their several figures and sentences. or hope for. called I. and of reading the mysterious book of books. the foundations and contents of all faculties. and withal by reading understand and remember. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. a century old. with a large dictionary . the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . they also made the first part of the book M. Among other questions. or are able to believe or utter. but follow only Christ. “After this manner. by four persons only. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. 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. is.” There is more. full of geometric symbolism.” the Fama continues. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. undestroyed. that you could so read in one only book. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. belongs to the mind and imagination. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . . . of eclecticism or universalism. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. sciences.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions.
a very long history in the West. 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 grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. a new language for ourselves.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. yea. or worse than nothing. of course. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. . correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. All of this. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. and have found out. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. and writing in a “magic language. . Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. yet shall we never be manifested . reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. . so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth.” Such an idea of a magic language has. and endue them with learning . it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. with the date 1604. metahistorical events at the end of time. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. or sixth age.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. . But this new revelation must be approached with humility. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. without and against the will of God. for instance. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. yea. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. and above all. into all beasts . in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . . of course.”55 The implication is that here. 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. and made. and quite probably to Egypt. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. the Bible. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. for instance.”52 “These characters and letters. a new era for mankind. . Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. 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. unto any man without the special pleasure of God.
we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. demons. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. 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. 1604. as well as in subsequent literature. as Frances Yates notes. that is. the Confessio. and the outrageously baroque. or intelligences. or pansophia. particularly in France. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. The Rosicrucian dream. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . 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. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. brilliant. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. was of a non-sectarian. Here.” 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 has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. 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. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism.’s tomb. and it too has been used in magical workings. who. or why. By 1623.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. discovered the “Enochian language. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. on a pansophic mysticism. disappearing around 1620. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. Here. R. John Dee (1527–1604). precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. peaceful. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected.
The pansophic view.. healing. is universal. 1618)].p. It is true that chemistry. In many respects. 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. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. 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. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. cabalistic. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. We might recall that. cabala. but like Dee. and gnostic. Pansophy. herbalism. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. in order to form the basis for a new. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. in contrast to theosophy. and Michael Maier. The most obviously included is natural magic. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . not specifically Christian. magical. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. it emphasizes magic. or magia naturalis. often with Kabbalistic influence. and technologism. of course. including. alchemy. for instance.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. mechanism. which is specifically Christian gnosis. Ruechlin. 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. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. derived from alchemy. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. alchemical. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. and inquiry into nature more generally. various forms of magic. Christian or not. Paracelsus. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws.
and much else. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. as a somewhat medieval figure. Cabball. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. chiefly under the title Physica. de La Rose-Croix.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence.. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. In some respects. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. But Chemistry]. and a series of . was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. et Hyperphysica. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. in later Rosicrucianism. magic squares. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. nee non Magia. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. including sorcery. planetary correspondences. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic.A. including a French edition titled F. we tend to think of Faust. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy.M. Philosophia. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. Among the first of these.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. Metaphysica. diagrams. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. even if it is illicit. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. almost all. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. of vast and intricate tables.O. D. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations.
” and has on either side gnomic sayings.” “Vegetable Seed. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. Son. John Dee. marked also Father. Here.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms.A. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr. and with the word Chaos. in scholastic theology. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. 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.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. of course. and Holy Spirit. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. partaking in both. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. 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.” and so forth. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists.” and “Mineral Seed. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. of its hyperphysical dimensions.O.” “Animal Seed.M. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period.M. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation.O. or to Rosicrucianism.A. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. surrounded by winged angelic forms. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. for instance. in time and in eternity. in visual form. that is. here we have a different focus. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies.” “Heavenly Seed. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. for instance. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. the greatest occultist of his day.
not so very long ago. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. One sees this also. in other words. and associated with the vast . as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681).HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. invented an industrial process. unlike these other more individualistic movements. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. stretching right into the nineteenth century. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. Freemasonry. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. which. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. of course. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. not a visionary. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. 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. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. Another such figure. science. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. or the Temple of Wisdom. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). but published only in German). the arts. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. the social and political realm. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. author of such works as Theomagia. of course. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). and literature in a spiritually centered universe. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. truly a Renaissance man. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. (London: 1665). and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. originally a scientist. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. was John Heydon. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. For all of the Rosicrucian. theosophic. who studied minerology. and specifically.
Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. Indeed. and Rosicrucianism. but the Freemasons endured the longest. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. Sir Thomas Fludd. Jewish. Of course. Martianus Capella and. having received a knighthood for his military service. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. and although . Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. 1617). of course. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. in 1616 and 1617. his father. Robert Fludd went to St. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. John’s College in Oxford. 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. Such publication was. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. not surprisingly. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. and the sciences. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). Like Paracelsus himself. Plato and the Bible. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. 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. Indeed. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. the Kabbalah. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. 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. the arts. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. to a speculative. on which he explicitly drew. Fludd. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. semireligious occult fraternity.” published in Leiden. and during this time began work on his major treatises. Masonry. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all.
who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. Himself an alchemist. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. 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. John Dee. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. 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. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. Arthur Dee. Marin Mersenne. By the early 1630s. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. But in any event. astrologer. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646.60 Then again. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. 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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view.”61 But for our purposes. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. Dee’s son. born to an aristocratic family. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. Dr. and assiduous bibliophile. and back to England.” Elias Ashmole. . back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. Ashmole. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. and who collected much on and by John Dee—so that one might well say that the esoteric movement here went from England to the Continent.
”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.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). of course. never referred to it again. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. and must remain so. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles.64 These three men. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . or as Kabbalistic.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. . an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. when Backhouse thought he was dying.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. one could ignore it.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. John Dury (1596–1680). and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. It is significant that Ashmole. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. . but they are in any case gnostic. and only philosophers of the English Revolution. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). was not simply an antiquarian. The true name is hidden. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. Samuel. the real . All of this. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. of course. . after recording this revelation. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. . If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature.62 Backhouse’s father. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. using a symbolic metalanguage. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. and John Comenius (1592–1690). and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. except to his own spiritual son. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles.
and Mechanical. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. Such a language. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. But most important for us is the final point. Early in the eighteenth century. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). esoteric: to limit those who understand it. Philosophicall. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. Chymical. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. . The aim of a magical language is. according to the Constitutions. . Freemasonry. However. 2. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. needless to say. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. Arts and Sciences. 4. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread.” certainly a pansophic goal. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. . Also important here is the third point. like the symbolism of alchemy. 3. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. . and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. and as Edmond Mazet remarks.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. . whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have else remain’d at a perpetual Distance. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus.
And during this time. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. Italy. deism. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. great. became prominent in French Masonry. and elsewhere exhort all the learned men and all the artisans of the Fraternity to unite to furnish materials for a Universal Dictionary of the liberal arts and useful sciences. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. solid. excepting only theology and politics. In it. and indeed. for instance. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . it is not surprising that this project. a theosophic circle in London. especially in England.68 Within Masonry itself. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. Ramsay. . had an exoteric. including. announced in Ramsay’s oration. nonsectarian basis.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. On the one hand. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. On the other hand. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. . the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. Masonic values of rationalism. fraternal Freemasonry. After her death. The work has already been commenced in London. especially in France. In this oration. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. . or ignore esotericism. England. fellow craftsman. luminous. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. and master mason. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. with its general tendency to reject. while publishing numerous books. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. suppress. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals.
” In other words. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. by which. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. six for the clergy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. even to this day. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well.8). the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. I answer it was God in six Terminations. that is. specifically. to wit I am. In the Graham manuscript of 1726. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. God has sealed the six directions of space. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1.”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.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. . the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. based as it is on the craft of building. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. which is as follows: one word for a divine. As we have already seen. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. Freemasonry. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. In other words. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. of human and divine architecture both. 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. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. theosophic. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. Rosicrucian. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. Indeed. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. and six for the fellow craft.
” or signature. but as the actual medium linking humanity. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. of course. and Christian theosophy. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. Rosicrucianism. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. Masonry. Here. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. nature. Finally. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. not just as the means of communication among people. And this role is played out through reading and writing. Here.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. in Western esotericism. pansophy. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. . including alchemy. its secret “silable. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. Kabbalah. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. magic. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. Above all. not consume it. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. the theme of our next section. What is more. 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 the divine. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. including humanity). One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. For according to Western esotericism generally. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together.
T r i p u s A u r e u s ( F r a n k f u r t : 1 6 1 8 ) . .Figure 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r.
T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. from .
edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.). Theosophia Revelata.Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. . oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.). Theosophia Revelata. .Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
. 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.
Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). . Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund.
Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye. . O p u s M a g o . (Frankfurt: 1784).
C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o . .
and the evocative.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. . Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations.” 1988. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. “The Music of Dawn.
” 1976. “Paradise.Figure 10 Cecil Collins. .
Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Now I want Spirits to enforce. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. Which is most faint. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. or else my project fails. Or sent to Naples. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown.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. And pardoned the deceiver. dwell In this bare island by your spell. the magician Prospero. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. has brought the play’s action to an end. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. And what strength I have’s my own. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . The Tempest. Which was to please. The main character.
by virtue of his skill with words. we realize that we. Rosicrucianism. Warlick. In this most magical of plays. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. That is. In all of these esoteric traditions. for example. E. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. often little more than the accumulation of data. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. in effect gives his wand to his audience. for most of us. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. traditionally. Conventionally. and freed him. having relinquished his magical power. shows a tall. today. it is often inverted and does not . pansophy. Initially. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. standing above a reclining woman. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. Here. to sing or to say into being. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. As you from crimes would pardoned be. also a magician. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). To incant is to enchant. to invoke the forces of creation itself. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. and words—often Hebrew. as audience. Suddenly. and Freemasonry. where the poet-singer is. letters. Let your indulgence set me free. is a prosaic matter. To be a vehicle for the right words. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. for instance. Here Prospero. winged creature in an ornate room. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. there are numbers.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. but there is no transference of magical power. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. to the audience. via the main character. is to touch the nature of being itself. Reading. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. are the magicians.
Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. his mother Jewish. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. S.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. D. more or less. of even greater value is a vertical. Milosz traveled widely. sometimes explicitly. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. secular or not. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. horizontal survey is of value. into the world of French intelligentsia. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). and entry. not only in the case of Ernst. sometimes more implicitly. Here. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. as with Yeats or H. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. and perhaps for someone else to do. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. for instance. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. more . Naturally. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. and so I will not discuss them further here. 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. as with Emerson or Rilke. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. the poet H. It is certainly worth doing. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. with sections on each of the major currents. D. (1886–1961). V. as can in fact be said of the works of. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. While a broad. V. third.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. turning then to H. I will leave such a project for another time. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. After a good education. But his learning is of a particular kind.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 89 seem to convey a particular kind of esoteric understanding. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. D. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. to the magical fiction of C. split further into sections on poetry and prose. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. However.. Canticle of Knowledge: O. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. for instance.
perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). and Western esotericism in general. 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. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. come to fruition in literary form. Not so Milosz. Then. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake.” However.90 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E or less like that of the early T. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. for that matter. Kabbalah. theosophy. he experienced a spiritual illumination. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. which are what concern us here. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. in fact. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. in vision. These Swedenborg saw. and became. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. of heaven. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. One can. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. a Don Juanesque figure. William Blake (1757–1827). and perhaps remains. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. create a kind of lineage of such figures. Eliot. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. and the dwelling places of spirits. also a tactile visionary. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. Goethe. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. hell. as he saw it. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). in 1914. and. Among these figures. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. . Milosz’s poetry. S. and both wrote in dry. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. Swedenborg was. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography.
thieves of joy and pain. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. will understand nothing of these things. to join up with ancient teachings. the observer looks outward. / Others. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. and like Blake. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. as the organizer of archetypes. The canticle continues: “A ceux. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness.]”7 . seems bound.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). Cartographers of consciousness. / Les autres. through a new metaphysics.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. and in particular. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. on reçu et savent déjà. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. on 14 December 1914.” which. from the cosmos.”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. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. have received and already know. and also prehistory and archaic history. ayant demandé. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist.” telling us that “poetry. seems called upon. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. having asked. de science et d’amour. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. crown of human knowledge. [For those who. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. that he anticipated a new poetry. to awakening it in his reader.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. knowledge and love. n’entendront rien à ces choses.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. astronomy. But the poet. but indeed. qui. and especially the figures we are discussing here. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. At this juncture.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. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. the passionate pursuit of the Real. and especially in Milosz.
mais bien les père des objects sensibles. but negators. salt.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. from Pythagoras to Plato.” We think that the sensible world is situated. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. but truly fathers of sensible objects.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. not like “Patmos.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. sel.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. sun. to the initiate. 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.]”9 In other words. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. eau. those who are not affirmers. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. lumière. ténèbres. nor sons. addressed to the latter.” Indeed. etc. blood. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. earth. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. are merely thieves of love and knowledge.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. sang.” writing that to understand the origin of language. In fact.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. as well as the names of metals.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. 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. “meditation on the origin of language. of course. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. / For these names are neither brothers. soleil. have received. “their substance is nameless.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. darkness. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. he continues.”8 This gnostic canticle is. but it is not so. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. But characteristically. terre. but living. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. and already know. light. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of .” Only divine poets see the world of archetypes and describe it reverently by means of the “termes précis et lumineux du langage de la connaissance [precise and luminous terms of the language of knowledge]. this “situated place.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. water. ni les fils.
he implicates us in the poem. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. and the gold of celestial memory.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. of love and of wrath. mute as lead. or in Milosz’s words. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”.]”13 As we might recall. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. for as he told us before. . . these ancient metaphors refer to “substances.” This distinction between truth and lie. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes.” “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. And so it is here. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. a revelation. Milosz exultantly writes. Adam. Milosz tells us again. when Milosz addresses us directly. .” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. is the “key to the world of light. . Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. he calls us to the celestial gold. he tells us. muet comme le plomb. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. 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. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. that is. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. At such points. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . of the primal . When he sings “the canticle of the sunlight hour of the nights of God” and proclaims the wisdom of two worlds opened to his sight. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. Here. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. and only describes what he has seen.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances.” There is the earthly gold.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. of blessing and of desolation.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word).” Simply that. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold.
Luciferic brain]. and a kind of corporeality of language.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses.” an “eternity of horror.]” Then one day. hideous.” selfknowing. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place.” “the world of profound. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. rather. not light and serenity of recognition. / being in place itself. innocent.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge.]”16 See. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. in theosophic tradition. this immense. “the Father of Ancients. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. different. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. Thus.” We might recall that the mirror. Milosz muses on his early poetry. of those who speak pure language. le seul situé. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. for that matter. but “great trials of negation. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. and this is the “solar egg. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. the only one situated. of light and darkness. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass.” just as in so much of Western esotericism.”15 Here we find. In the concluding lines of the canticle.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. we find a spiritual corporeality. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. chaste archetypes. delirious. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. in the visionary writings of Böhme.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. Milosz writes.” “immense. [I am always in the same place. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. différent. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. wise. / étant dans le lieu même.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. hideux. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . and looked behind him. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. / played with me as a father with his child.” those “lands of nocturnal din.” and “marrow of iniquity.94 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E powers at work in the constant manifestation of existence. Milosz tells us. and is the province of those who speak pure language.
” replies Beatrix. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. and his Hymns to the Night. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. is especially of interest to us here. [1775–1802]). How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. innocents! [The parents sleep there. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. and clothed with the sun. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. I touch your brow.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. Qu’ils sont beaux. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. et pour nos trois jours à venir. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. “Master. je te touche le front. This poem. tendres métaux époux. again three times.” is unquestionably alchemical. by the grace of inner vision. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. trois vois—le signe. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. le signe! [seven times for the past.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. tender metal partners in marriage. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life.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. Thus the canticle. but refers to an inner alchemy. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. 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. let us make the sign.]” . In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. and for our three days to come. and since we have now known one another seven years. between the lightworld and the darkworld. [Dear child. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. Beatrix. you speak the truth. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. to “tender metal partners in marriage. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. at its end.
he comes back to life. 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.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. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. Beatrice. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. “I see only one. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. charity. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. any more than are those of the adept. “I believe it is. partaking rather of a heightened. leaden and lachrymal. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama.” sinks to the depths.]”21 It is. Beatrix. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. He opens his eyes and is reborn. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. but the adept replies. [It is life liberated. woman. The woman in the poem.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. charitée. you liberate yourself.” while the “oil of blind corruption.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. And in the conclusion of the poem. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. The Master forgives me. and “Lumière de l’or. yellow. The alchemical . but also thrice-greatest Hermes. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. and to its incantory language. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. tu te délivres. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. I tell you. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. of course. is reborn!” Thus once again. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. [Light of gold. The adept watches. [My chains of constellations are broken. white and pale blue. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. and black.
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. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. then? Undoubtedly.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. a light appears. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. as unemotional as nature. after all. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. At the same instant. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. rests in a horizontal position. by Milosz. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. The incantory. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is.” The line is the fourth verse. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. perfectly awake. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. or rather.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. . far beyond what we might think such a line may mean.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. eventuates in the birth of Christ in the alchemist or adept: all these traditions are brought together in the service of what we may call an Hermetic-alchemical initiatory psychodramatic poem. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. in other words.: initiate]. in what it reveals. is also to participate in it.” Milosz’s commentary goes far.” a “faithful and pious narrative. the large cloud vanishes. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. oneself. one senses vast expanses around one. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull).” and that “In the author’s mind.
meaning the archetypal realm. its brutal mass wars. Such experience is of the truly situated. stands still. It is perhaps useful. because it springs from this archetypal reality. we must bow down. Perhaps we can understand more clearly what Milosz means when he quotes “the master Goethe” as saying that “Every passing thing is only a symbol. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. thereafter.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. on which it alights like a crown. becomes rounder.23 There is still more. and in this there is a kind of reversal. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. scientifically. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. he is among the most erudite of poets. He insists that in order to understand. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. 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.” 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 with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. one may even say. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. And authentic literature. moving up a little. yet his erudition. just as he ignores and despises that world. at this point. though including many great poets.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. that. Milosz . its secular hedonism and materialism. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. Without question. referring to the reader as “my son. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence.
looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity.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. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. alias René Descartes. Martinez de Pasqually. Swedenborg. from Egypt up to today. [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. Swedenborg. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. Eugène Ledrain.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe.”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.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. sought in them peace of spirit. Claude de Saint Martin. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. the mystical eighteenth century.” and . but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star].” 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.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them.” Milosz continued. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. 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. Plato. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. passing through the Pre-Socratics. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. the School of Alexandria.” 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.
are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. science. and the true poet. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. Eliot. . and Savoy. Germany. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. . Le Forestier. Here. King of the unified world. as early as 1919. in short. my son. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. 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.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. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. words. King of the Unified World. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. Hiram. the books open themselves to him. 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. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. inside the books of life and of knowledge.” in fact. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. 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 . in 1938.” which are far more extensive than anything T. Joseph de Maistre. R. and art. wrote for his poetry. 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. S.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. In his “Poem of the Arcana. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. if we may coin a word. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. . the universal regent of faith. Milosz held. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. it is not books that we are waiting for. for instance. the visionary poet.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. and books. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. Under the heading “Hiram.
aspire to holy unification. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. Indeed.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge.”35 All of this resonates so strongly with the Western esoteric traditions we have been tracing that it would take several pages just to explicate this single sentence in Milosz’s “Exegetic Notes. 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.’ announce their impending appearance. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. “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 we have seen.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. he brings in the theme that. like all the continents and all the states of this world. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. who announced a coming millennium. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. Religion and science. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. alias René Descartes. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. like spirit and matter.” 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.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. especially the dream of a world utopia. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs .”32 Here. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel.” Here. He writes that “Today. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. in the sacred poem of the Arcana.
The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. for instance. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude.” And in his little esoteric group. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. moral or social. . of political. the other members being his apostles. being the Christ-figure.”39 These dreams of universality. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk.”38 Such a group. and that he deliberately. Milosz wrote. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. And there are numerous other such examples. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. in his work as in his private life. but explicitly Christian. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. among them its ritual dress. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. author of The Magus. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). religious. and the arts via religion. with a white collar. I am the enemy of exteriorization. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. de Lubicz.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. sought the widest possible range. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. In his work. The Master alone will wear a red cap. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. the sciences. however.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. not to say grandiosity. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). and scientific fusion. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller.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. in his letter to James Chauvet. as we have seen. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. Our group will have no more than twelve members. For us. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. of course. the “science of the divine. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914.
That H. There is in Milosz’s poetry and prose a peculiar hieratic quality and a special relationship to his imagined reader that will inform our final two chapters. Indeed. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. D. and essays.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. of course. the Tarot. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. Lewis. the poet H. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. a relatively obscure figure. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. D. C. However. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies.’s life and interests.. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. through his writing. but also for the universality of his aims. but toward the future. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. and a new golden age. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. novels. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. little studied in academe. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. In these efforts. Indeed.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. we . D. which outlines the intertwining of H. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. not toward the present. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. S. D. D. astrology. Although we here will take our leave of them. psychic insights or visions. and Milosz. H. Here. D.’s poetry. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. numerology.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. There are. and Kathleen Raine. Like Prospero in his final speech. D. today. magic. Rosicrucianism. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. Charles Williams.
She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. D.104 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E will explore how her work explicitly and implicitly initiates the reader through literature and art. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness.. D.’s early. a cap of consciousness . “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. by recognizing that H. D. however.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. In Esoteric Origins. as many critics have observed. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. D.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. For it seems clear from her poetry. In his introduction to H. D. astrology. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. D. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. We should begin.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919).’s life it is repeated a number of times. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. save that in H. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. Margaret Fuller. was fascinated by numerology. as a wrenching spiritual awakening.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). D. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book.”41 Although the major works by H. Notes is a very unusual work.. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. like H. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. D.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. D. explicitly esoteric book. D. But when we begin to look at H. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. D. overmind. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. and on the other Margaret Fuller. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. H. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. mind. “The Thistle and the Serpent. for H. Likewise. very much resembles both of them in certain respects.
indeed. 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. . It is like a closed sea-plant. That overmind seems a cap. a musician. except through the intellect. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. is a gnostic with a small g. H. D. which is possible for all. Whatever else we may make of it. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. Into that over-mind. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. or anemone. D. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. a musician. . a nonsectarian.42 H. D. transparent. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. my forehead. or awakening into the overmind.’s work has feminist implications. now. as primary to the true artist. affecting a little my eyes . those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. H.’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. She does write about a “vision of the womb. syncretic . and perhaps when she concludes by conjoining Christ and Dionysius in a poetic vision of their unity with the divine mother as with all of nature. D. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. She places gnosis. fluid yet with definite body. like water. . and third is the awakening into the overmind. . since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. engage in a union of love and intellect. yet make one picture. jelly-fish. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. I visualise it just as well. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest.”43 H. As we read on through Notes. She writes that to be a true artist. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. Without doubt. H. The two work separately. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind.” The minds of the lovers unite. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. perceive separately.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. second is the life of the intellect. There are even traces here of Gnosticism.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. D. one must. contained in a defininte space.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. almost like two lenses.
” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . boasting.” “Tribute to the Angels.” In the next section. she holds. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. is a false path. unlocked. as these entities are “healers. In this respect. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. seek. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind.” and of “the most profound philosophy”.” here.” mind “floundered. . dare more. / here is the alchemist’s key. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos.47 In M. H. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall.” we “nameless initiates. too. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. / born of one mother. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. In Notes on Thought and Vision.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence.” H. and H. She writes “dare.”48 All of this suggests that there is .” who “know each other / by secret symbols.” H.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 extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton.” She writes. the overmind being above it. / oneness lost. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. D. over-confidence. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. Here.” “arrogance. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. D. for instance.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. / it unlocks secret doors. . she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. Amen. was lost in sea-depth. this. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. E.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. / companions / of the flame. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. devour. D. of the “alchemist’s secret. D.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances.”45 “Amen.” And the section ends with “illusion. seek further. spell. All-father. pitiful reticence. helpers / of the One. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. prayer” for healing.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. D. madness. D. reversion of old values.
” “invoke the true-magic. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. but this. / lead us back to the one-truth.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. D. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. she is calling herself to a sacred task. H. / re-vivify the eternal verity. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past. D. I feel the meaning that words hide. they are anagrams. this has been proved heretical. little boxes. D. too little affirmation.” .” through painting or writing. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. “patron of alchemists. . H.” whose “province is thought. too much. / in the light of what went before. symbols of Psyche reborn. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. cryptograms.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. this passage suggests the complexity. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide.” “candle and script and bell.”49 Thus. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment.”50 Here H. continues. D. but also those who come after her. H. D. artful and curious. / inventive. devoid of life. The words themselves may resemble boxes. then writes: We have had too much consecration. conditioned to hatch butterflies .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. D. In a well-known passage. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. .’s invocation of Hermes. too little: I know.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. The next work in H. illuminate what came after. this. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H.
recreated by the poet. it was an ordinary tree. was writing these poems. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. the poet must “melt down and integrate. reinvoked in a new form. we saw the tree flowering. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. D. John. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. is attempting in her poetry here. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. indivisible Spirit. saw. H. so too can the poet be.” One must “reinvoke. and so too by implication can we be. H.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. D. in the high-altar of a ruined building.” but re-awakened. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. the shattered glass of the past. we entered a house through a wall. D. H. like a ghost. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. D. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. in an old garden-square.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there).52 These lines reveal many layers. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. after all. how is it you come so near. I testify. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . the conditions under which.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine.
’s poetry. D. and Trilogy in particular. In it.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. . one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. This experience. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. and even more overtly. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. with Saint Michael.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. D. the divine feminine. alluded to. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. D.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. / the darkness of ignorance. symbol of Hermes. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. / it was a sign. H. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . In this context.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. 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. And this experience is gnosis.’s poetry in general. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. the flowering of the wood. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss.’s “Tribute to the Angels. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. it is happening everywhere. / . In H. D. Hence H. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. nothing whatever. is a gnosis of the word. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. music could do nothing with it. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination.” This experience “was vision. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. the next section is very important.’s vision. / it was the Holy Ghost—. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. . D. conveyed through the poetry. H. D.
they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. who is also redeemed.” This refrain. D.’s own heritage. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood.” And She is also “Psyche. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. in the context of the three poems together. the scribe. D. They are not. under her “drift of veils. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. the butterfly. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. as we will see in more detail shortly. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us.. and H. D. the Bible. Hermes is the patron of the artist. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. allied to Mercury also. whether it is con- . for H. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. D. was a baptized Moravian. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. Rather. D. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader.” she of the Bona dea. and that. brought into paradise with Christ. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. Sophianic spirituality was in H. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. D. D. right into the final poem. 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.” of artists and poets who “did not deny their birthright” but remained faithful to the spiritual origin and vision that is the fount of living art.” H. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new.’s Trilogy.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian.” “she carried a book. / who did not forego our heritage” . the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. to her astonishment.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. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. the writer.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. D. obviously. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience.” “Santa Sophia. and the thief. the thief. And She is “Holy Wisdom. / out of the cocoon. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. She who has been seen “the world over.
The Gift. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. D. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. of mysticism. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. complete with H. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. To understand this mysticism more fully. I suppose. H.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. Hermes and Christ. D. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. H. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing.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. S.” with the experience of Christ. we must turn to The Gift. What is more.’s own notes. Eliot and W. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. 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. 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. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. that until 1998. D. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. D. Eve and Mary. B. fear. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. In her poetry. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. as in the original. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. It is not surprising. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece.” all are interwoven here. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. D. H. H. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. Likewise. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. however. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its .
accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . Pennsylvania. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. D.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. though I must confess. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. We can see the extent and depth of H. it was in fact in her blood. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. itself. Robinson. “Old Father Weiss. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. . For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. Rimius’s works. in her notes. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. D. D.” or Jedediah Weiss. 1794). but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. 1753).’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. 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. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. was herself a baptized Moravian. D. 1909). shaping the way that she intended it to be read. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. . D. Rimius. Linde. in the middle of the eighteenth century. H. and he was born in Bethlehem. 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. 1753). And her personal library gives ample proof that H. D. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. in .”58 About such accusations. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. H. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. & P. Knapton. Pennsylvania. especially those now housed at Yale University. D. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. D.” of the “Arcana. In toto. In other words. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. cited by H. 1755). H. make clear this distinction. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. her grandmother’s father. Mysticism. had done her research. H.
. into The Gift. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. and its doctrines as representing a pure. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. D. D..M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. D. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. but also of the older poet H. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. . writes. Mother. to initiate the reader. respected and highly respectable. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting.” She goes on: . “you just stumble on it.” H. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. We were a small community. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. in short. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . there was no hint of this exoticism. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. it does exist. Hilda. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. 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. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. D. conventionally the church. 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. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. D.”59 There can be no doubt that Zinzendorf himself and his early circle held views that were seen as unacceptable by the German Protestant establishment at Dresden. The novel. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. referring to Father.. and Son. The Moravian Church.
In chapter 5 of The Gift. Then am I for a moment . 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. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. I mean. .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. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. But there is more. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. but Hilda (and along with her. . men play a greater role than women. indeed. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. Egyptian .114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. Hilda surmises. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. this is the game I play. The word is like a bee-hive. . in some aspects of the story. “The Secret. A word opens a door. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. these are the keys. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. it is like that little flower that Mrs. later learning it means Island of Wounds). as some scholars seem to think.” The first is when Mamalie. A word opens a door . Hilda is wondering if the word alone can serve as a means of initiation so that the spiritual mysteries of her heritage can be continued. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. . A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. “Christian had left the Secret with me. . I mean. . that is why it is so quiet. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. Hilda’s grandmother. The other bees have gone. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. These spiritual mysteries are not. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . Williams called a primula. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). Island of Wonders. But really “live” it. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. but there are no bees in it now. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. D. considerably more of this theme to unpack. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets.” she told Hilda. and even here in her narrative. cut on a wall at Karnak. Rather. the word stops. it is what the novel does for H. That is how it is.
as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. but all of them. laughing all the time. said Mamalie. is not Europe but North America. but this was untrue. this laughter that ran over us. though.” This scroll. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. it is not a confabulation of H. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. of snow swirling.” not just Minne-ha-ha. . The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. though. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. kept in a birch-bark case.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. Greek. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. done in their picture-writing. She and her . “like scales running up and down. D.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes.” “the laughter of leaves. was to decide the future of the whole country . she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. it was the laughter of the water. the answer given by the Spirits. This rapport is historically verifiable. Pyrlaeus. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. in particular the Shawnee. altogether. Mamalie continues. so that “It was laughing. of wind. bore the names of Cammerhof.63 In The Gift. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. Hebrew. had a name for. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place.’s. indeed. . Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. According to Mamalie.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. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland.62 Like the Templars. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples.
Wunden Eiland.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities.” but instead what we see is a tragic history.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. And in a subsequent event. domination. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. or Wounded Island. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. said in her fragmented narrative. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. In her notes. Mamalie. At the novel’s conclusion.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War.” as “Aryan. The Gift. decoded it and she played it. And yet in the very final passages. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. We have been shaken out of our ordinary dimension in time and we have crossed the chasm that divides time from time-out-of-time or from what they call eternity. and then. those hiding in the attic burned alive. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. so much so that she never played music again. H. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children.” about 150 Indians working in a Moravian settlement were attacked and about ninety slaughtered by ragtag American soldiers under the command of one David Williamson. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. even refers to the American David Williamson. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. having “burnt it up. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. . stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. D. raining down terror from the skies. 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. in an even more attenuated form. who was to die at twenty-five. In 1755. Christian Seidel. called “New Gnadenhütten.”69 The two worlds have become one. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood.
Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. D. the more deeply one looks into her works. Her interest in spiritualism. In this context. . H. H. Among major twentiethcentury authors. present. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. D.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. H. as well as of timelessness and time. both poetic and fictional. D. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. Indeed.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. 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.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. but as integral to her work. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. her work suggests that past. but rather is woven into her entire worldview.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. In her profoundly ambitious works. D. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present.’s English present. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. there. not merely as decorations. D. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England.V. and future continually intermingle. In her poetry and fiction. D. H. one of the original Moravian initiates. H. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. for instance. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. As we have seen. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. But above all.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. past and present. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. singing of the Wounds. and out of which all great work is generated. Likewise.
through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. H. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. We cannot conclude without reference to H. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. Elizabeth recalls him to her. as history tells us. D.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. yes. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. legendary Provence. Mystery and a portent. to be sure. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. D. Lilith. has the same root derivation as Seraph. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. whom we invoke as Lucifer. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. The Lucifer-Lilith. through time—specifically. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. through her fiction and through her poetry. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. may be Angel or Devil. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. late Rome. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. early seventeenth-century England. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. the Light-bringer. and contemporary London.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. After his death. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. D. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. Vale Ave. and its implications. dynastic Egypt.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said.118 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E she found an esoteric religious perspective that recognized the divine feminine in the form of Sophia. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. although: I hardly knew my Lord. parted in the dark. H. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. outlined in entirety. true we had met in sudden frenzy. but it was only in her later work that we see it. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. meeting and parting. as Adam.71 . in his pre-Eve manifestation. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. but at the same time.
Of course. D. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. here again “the words laugh.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . . But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. as in poetry. D. Here. 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.” and again through it “I had the answer. the Writing. 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.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. The dead are living still.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. / infinity portrayed in simple things.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life.” the holy presences withdraw. I would like to explore not the art of magic.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. the “springs gone under the hill.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams.” the mysteries of the holy well.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. 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. and the Scroll. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction.” 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. Her poetry and her prose.’s lifetime of work.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. . ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. But my . taken in toto. “the Mystery. But then “From grotto grove and shrine.
It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. domination of things and wills. Here. as one might imagine.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded.” which might best be translated as “magic. Let us take an example.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. Tolkien. it remains distinct from the other two. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power.” “Sir. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). when we turn to actual works. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose.” “Their naked power. R. “one who by his own will once opened it. C. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. and the descrip- .76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. or pretends to produce.” But later in the same essay. S. “The Descent of the Gods. fay or mortal. Viritrilbia. J. J. John Ransom.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. invokes the Oyéresu. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. Magic produces. it is not an art but a technique. R.” says Ransom. the “true powers of Heaven. 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. S. its desire is power in this world. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. R. His main character. or Mercury. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. saying “I have become a bridge.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. “That is why they will work only through a man. and so forth. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. here. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. seems reasonable enough in theory.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. Lewis. or Venus. things are not nearly so clear cut. C.” replies Ransom. yes. they will unmake all Middle Earth.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. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. R. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. an alteration in the Primary World. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. and Charles Williams).
whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden.”80 It is not really possible. bright and ruthless. They could not bear that it should continue. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. ready to kill. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. in which none other than the ancient . sticky gums . . there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. deafened. were it possible.” the narrator tells us.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. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. and then comes the goddess: “fiery.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. here. and the Blue Room. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative.” “He would have known sensuously. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. . They experience “needle-pointed desires. where the invocation has its center. . 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 . sweet-scented and full of desire. brisk merriments. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. In this chapter. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. . scorched. . for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . such a distinction does not hold up well at all. 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. calling down the powers. . the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. outspeeding light: it was Charity .” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. They thought it would burn their bones. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. unmitigated. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. They were blinded. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. ready to die. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. until his outraged senses forsook him. sharp. . in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. They could not bear that it should end. . where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. In the beginning of the chapter. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers.”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.
But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too.”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. “Obviously it was high time she went in. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. In other words. 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. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. Anne’s. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. of course. In so doing. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. The invocation takes place. though one could easily imagine it so. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success.” the seventeenth chapter. in a “secondary world” of fiction. Therefore . the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. and by its end. and one with Merlin and Ransom). even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. 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. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. About Williams’s novels. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. 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. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. and the Director (Dr. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. one with ordinary people. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. she sees that clothes are piled inside.
I have put a great deal into it. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. . to find out what it was about. almost cathartic effect. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. . they reveal forms of necromancy. and decidedly corrupt ones. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. For that. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. I wrote it. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. Who and what is Lilith. I am afraid. On the other hand. In effect they are initiations. for instance. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . It was not written for its entertainment value.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. By doing so. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. and insist on appearing again? Have I furnished myself with a dark familiar?83 Here Fortune gives voice to exactly the theme we are here investigating: how the writing of a book can be a magical act. in fact. 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. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. and how therefore the reader is in . in general. not find it very entertaining. they unveil the power of archetypes and. one is also encountering new realms of existence.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.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. 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. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. [Emphasis added. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. [Emphasis added. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. and her observations are revealing. for in the act of reading. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune.
There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. a shabby. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. 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. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. after all. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. which is the dark side of the Moon. who is Moloch. She gave rise to the character Lilith.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. and imagined myself speaking to him. I made the astral projection by the usual method. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. It does not matter to me what it is called. the side She turns away from earth. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. magicians call it magic. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift.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. not surprisingly. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. and I seemed to be in a strange room. for it is effectual. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. Fortune’s novel. badly lit and ill-tended room. 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. that is to say. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. In some respects. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. like all of her . untidy. putting my cards on the table. The magic worked. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. appears clearly in her novels. but Fortune was. In the novel’s seventh chapter. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic.
As a character. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. . Thus Rhodes. After his entry into the Unseen. like Taverner. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. for I was one with them . an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. a fellow named Fouldes. at the end of this collection himself becomes an initiate by entering into communion with the wild and sacred heart of England: he too has “passed over into the Unseen. 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. The Secrets of Dr. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. I was no longer alone. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. was consummately the logician. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. to “enter the Unseen. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. Rhodes. but I shared in their life. Marius. Taverner. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. and many others. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. for. Rhodes. at the end of the story.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. one will recall. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. Holmes.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced.” 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.”85 And so the book concludes. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. Not only were they alive. 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. a young woman named Ursula . but perhaps most interestingly. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. “in all things there was a profound difference. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I had passed over into the Unseen. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. . is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer.
’ replied Murchison. suddenly. . of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. a bear of a man. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. and her half-brother. but then Murchison. like Astley in The Winged Bull. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. and in another moment the room was empty . they were getting it in the neck. ‘so that’s that. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. The girl he could do nothing for. Yet paradoxically. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay.’ said Brangwyn. ‘Well. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. In That Hideous Strength. but also logically. ‘That is very much that. there are also depraved black magicians. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. .126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. He was experienced in dealing with such things. Frost and Wither are without mercy. a change came over the atmosphere of the room.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. and. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. an experienced magician.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. The strange. . These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. . dropping into a chair as if exhausted. cold and merciless. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. Of the two books. . banked and double-banked. breaking the embarrassing silence. pure selfishness. Then. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons).’ Brangwyn concluded.’ ‘Yes. among them men named Frost and Wither. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. they are without morality.
Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. experience of magic. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. Whether or not a disciple has a master. and Fortune. . .89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. 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.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation.90 . which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. Williams. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. in this kind of fiction. Lewis. But Charles Williams and even C. S. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. helped by appropriate texts. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. There is. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. powers both good and evil. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. 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. either alone. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. and thanks to that. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). or with the help of an initatory. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness.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. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. Taverner. In all of the fiction we are considering here.
91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. thoroughly real. if we may so put it. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. 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. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.” and thus to written works like novels.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. since in the fiction we have been discussing. Such a tension corresponds. . initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. 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. Second. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. in literary form. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.” What conclusions can we draw. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. a mesocosm possessing its own geography.128 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E I would suggest that the order of these final points be reversed. Indeed.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. Third. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. Williams. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. Finally. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. In fact. we have seen that central to this initiatory passage is a tension between matter-of-fact or ‘ordinary’ characters and those experienced in magical work. then. active imagination is essential. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism.
held in London’s Tate Gallery. indirectly or directly. Still. but also in Böhmean theosophy. 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. angelic realm. Thus. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. 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. higher aspects of nature and humanity. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. and his writings reveal in detail his . which is why I have chosen to study them together. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. 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. E. transcendent and perhaps. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. and that like his contemporary poet. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. an important and genuinely original British painter. Theosophic illustrations in particular.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. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. in the sense of Rilke. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. there remain fundamental differences. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. As we have already seen. but with the publication of this book. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works.. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. Collins was a gifted aphorist. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden.
one is placed in contact with another reality through them. I long for my race. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. Our time denies. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . and most holy are you O beautiful servants. the human being. I remember you. denies all who have inward fruit. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. Totnes. But you exist. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. In “Hymn of Life. of all that which desires to give. A frustration of all that which is growing. 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. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. 1945. we are all exiles. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. and my life with you. A winter of the spirit is over all society.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview.” 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. By reading Collins’s aphorisms.’ must make intellectual connections individually. of his solitary walks in the countryside. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. But here I wander. for Collins. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. Denies the artist.” or again. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. [14 January. I know of your existence. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. is imbued always with spiritual significance.” Ordinary life in the natural world. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. to come to fruition. I long for my kingdom. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. the contemplative. for he must ‘leap the gaps. and I know nothing.95 In 1965.
Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge.] 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. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. by measurement or analysis. . and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 131 who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate. the meaning. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. . The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. in Collins’s view. It can only be known by inner nuance. awaken this inner rapport in us. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. but only by rapport with those worlds. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. and the making of money. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. 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[. rapport.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. the instrument of art helps to sensitise the interior nature and to continually re-sensitise it when it grows stale and dull in the world of mere existence—the world of repetition. This is the same thing actually. by description. For like answers to like and creates actualization .97 Works of art. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. The value of the artist is not to decorate. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. .
But there is something else that has to be opened. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. it becomes qualitative. In the past. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. trees. spiritu- .’ In other words. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. . of mere desires. we have communion with it[. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission.” In his final remarks.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. in a “time of the apocalypse. canonical religions and ritual. the answer comes back to us from within them. he writes. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. religious. the elements. 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.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. We are all apt to fall asleep. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. and what is more. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. his inner world. . it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. the unveiling of the atom.” 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.98 The work of art. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. canonic language. We live. in Collins’s view. and transmuted. in Collins’s view. we have no canonic culture of our own. the opening of man’s inner nature. widened. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. and that is the eye of the heart. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. rocks.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[.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. ‘Everything that lives is holy. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil.
or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). to the left the orb of the sun. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. and vibrant color. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. landscape. landscape is transformed as well. the figures’ eyes are opened.” 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. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. like “Angels” (1948). In many of his later paintings. hieratic quality. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. not afraid to wound the heart. an active support. dreamlike. as in many of his visionary paintings. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. too. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. but that is uplifting and paradisal. the one with the sword. by patterns on the limbs and torso. in “The Invocation. and the other with the light. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. 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. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. such as “The Invocation” (1944). to the right a human figure with a sweeping robe that looks as though it rises out of the earth exactly as does the hill behind it. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. To gaze at this painting is to . Many of these images have a strange. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. Here. 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. a union of figure. her head bent back and contemplative. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. make it bleed. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. Often.
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. his drawings. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. Indeed. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. Collins wrote in this book. or altar. that like Milosz. by which we make contact with reality through images . Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. chair. Lost paradise and . of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. D. And it is also clear. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. in Collins’s view. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). . implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. as in the works of Milosz and H. But Collins offers these through visual images. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer.. Meditations. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. and indeed. a world between us and it. we then have ‘sacred space. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. In this respect. In another book. . an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative.’ sacred images. Divine Reality. but central. Poems.. and poems that illuminate his paintings. aphorisms.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. not least because his work includes not only images. but also essays. like an electrical transformer. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. he offers through his paintings. In all of these works. D. he is like very few other painters. so that God becomes a table. Here. H.
and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. although they may contain an element of play. to the conjunction of spirituality. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. Thus our third point: that . and the via negativa. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. First. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. as Dionysius himself points out. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. For in our overview of Western esotericism. for instance. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. or mere entertainment. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. science. as a means of transmitting knowledge. It is. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. Strictly speaking. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. and awakening gnosis. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. and the arts in written form. what we find is in fact the via negativa. the way of images and forms and transformations. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. of course. but rather. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. or way of affirmation. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. these are the themes of these great artists. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. or way of negation. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions.
materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. plant extracts. Ideas. Here is the essential division between a modern. ‘third element.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. on the other hand. there is only the division between self and other. and so on.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. In a modern worldview. D. the divine.’ quantifiable knowledge. between the human and natural realms. psychology. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. between humanity and the cosmos. sometimes called by Böhme the . be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. Western esoteric traditions. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. sociology. And Western esoteric literature. Rather. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. works only by reference to this third element. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. and there is sheer transcendence. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. In modern education. or Symbols. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. geology.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. But in Western esoteric traditions. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. chemistry. the cosmos. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. hidden. history. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos.’ the divine. and the divine.
is in fact prophetic. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. and his fall from paradise. and by others the Nothing. For the purpose of such literature is. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. Adam. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. In brief. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. the absolute unity of subject and object. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. for all three of these poets. a mythologist. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. In all of these traditions. This archetypal realm. cosmology. in this worldview. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. but nothing. a divine mathematics. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. or any of the other major esoteric currents. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. alchemy. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. or Fullness. a theologian. by definition a ‘seer. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. Rosicrucianism. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. an artist. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. first. and literary expression. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. in order to create. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. often seen as androgynous. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. biology. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. and a chemist. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. The artist. theosophy. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. we find a divine art and a divine science. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. Thus the artist. meaning by that not absence. The aim of the esoteric . One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist.
Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. . and notarikon. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. for instance. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. magical. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. contains some secret of wisdom. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. theosophic. Hence.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. temurah. . pansophic. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. a theosopher. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. Rosicrucian. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. author of The Magus. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). and Masonic illustrations. almost always denoting divinity.’”102 Likewise. In this perspective. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. an alchemist. whether a Kabbalist. which is to say. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. 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. where it arguably sparked the entire . Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. or a pansoph. Such a myth of universal fall and restoration also implies that behind the Babel of modern human languages lies a universal language that belongs to paradisal humanity. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing .138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. even from a single letter. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. the language of creation itself.
and Masonry. and especially of written language and of the book. Futurism. 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. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. certainly it may be the Christian .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. theosophy. when surveying the various esoteric currents. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. 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. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. Social Realism. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature.” or the “Book of Life”. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. . . Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. it may be the “Book of Nature. consequently.’ and this is not necessarily so. influenced much of modern Russian literature. 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. following the various currents through Kabbalism. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry.104 Obviously. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition.” or the “Book of Revelation. magic.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. generally speaking . This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism.
but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. or in Buddhism. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. Hermes. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. 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. much less in Christianity specifically. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. and Geber. Given our overview. even in this case it is not a matter of an initiatory master-disciple tradition in quite the same way as we see in Sufism. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. gurus. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. but rather relied upon the written word. which indeed still finds them audiences today. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. or nonexistent. However. interrupted. for instance. Islam. Even in the case of alchemy. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. where the tradition . and what is more.140 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Bible or the Jewish Talmud or the Islamic Koran. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. and so on back into antiquity. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. and indeed even farther back. or masters. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. 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. Indeed. In Hinduism or Buddhism. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism.
may think of his poetry. when we look at the writing of Milosz.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. One thinks here. Such a view of the written word is. Milosz. for in all cases.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. V Milosz. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally.’ or ‘data’. and in particular at its strange. whatever one . initiatory. That is to say. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. naturally. 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. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. particularly the works of Böhme. I believe. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. Indeed. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. in addressing this far-off “son.’ a means of conveying ‘information. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. have been adorned with copious illustrations. but who rather offered the world only written works. Such evocation is. of course. These illustrations. Somehow. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. of Abraham Abulafia. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. hieratic. By contrast. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. often strikingly beautiful. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. Let us take another example. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. dreamlike language and imagery. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. In modern parlance. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. to some future initiate in a far century. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. Christian theosophic literature. are not simply decorations. who. but . who never revealed themselves publicly at all.
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.106 To explain this phenomenon. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. In my view. in other words. and over time those seeds can take root. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. for instance. Obviously. represented by a cross. grow. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. the lightworld of paradise. tending. In this way. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. it is more immediate and visceral. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. does have an initiatic function—that is.” or Wisdom. by gazing at such an image. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. reaping. Taken together. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. theosophic. For instance. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. which refers to . Such an illustration is not merely allegorical.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. pansophic. What is more. so there is no need here to repeat myself. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. Such an illustration. the dark-world of hell. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. This metaphor—of sowing. through the turbulence of earthly life. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. marked also “Sophia. that is. Rather. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. I use the term ahistorical continuity. and flower in the reader too.
this function must be a change in consciousness. you truly will know its worth. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. leave untouched the precious Names of God . But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. and are in earnest. . and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. it is also possible for an individual or group to rediscover or reawaken a particular archetypal paradigm latent within a tradition without any direct contact with such a lineage. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. or a biology textbook. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. Here. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. it can reëmerge in another. as I am suggesting. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. 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. Perhaps. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. Naturally.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. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. Thus. After all. one might even say impossible. If. Such a reader joins with the author. and who have a desire to begin. if you wish to use this little book aright. . the daily news. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. for example. instead. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read.
so that consciousness shifts to awareness. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. and experience the divine directly. and for when one rises. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. he tells us. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. not by merely mouthing the words. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly.”107 Or again.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. a prayer for the evening. to become a channel for the divine current. Then that thing. or has knowledge-of. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. which it sees as divine. and second. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us.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. it walks in its own delusion. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. and become not its own possession. one automatically is caught in delusion.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. this objectifying delusion. a prayer for noon.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing.” “Be rightly warned. a prayer for washing and dressing. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. but. and so on for the entire week. the source from which they emerge. and a prayer before sleep. 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.” If on the one hand. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. but the “instrument of God.” or objectified realm. in his “Warning to the Reader.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. a prayer for one’s daily work. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. judgemental consciousness.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. .
For language is in its innermost nature divine.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. or subject and object. divine in its origin. Indeed. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. in that there remains an observer. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. conversely. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. or divided from the divine. we have the point of origin. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. or perceiver and what is perceived. in Western esotericism generally. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. Here we are. the self in one sense continues to exist. as are nature and humanity. In this sublime unity there is no congealing into an objectified self-other division—through paradox and enigma is expressed the sheer transcendence out of which emerges the dazzling archetypal realm. the yes and the no. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. where. between the divine and the natural. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. There is simply awareness. there is no sense of separation between self and other. of course. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. in other words. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. but of the cosmos itself. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. There emerges a spacious or open quality. the origin not only of language. as we have seen. the light and the dark. love and wrath. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. although there are divisions between archetypes. in the archetypal realm there is . at the far limit of what we can express in language. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. or the divine eye that sees itself. Above. then language must reflect this division. just as. In other words.
secular. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. but never owned. secular. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. During this . there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. the divine is perforce unmentionable. But by the late twentieth century. nature. and so forth. and the participatory. 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 manifest more indirectly in literature. suppression. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. in these esoteric traditions. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. in modern literary theory or theories of language. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. and objectified worldview.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. Language. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. Undoubtedly. For Western esotericism. consumerist state was built from a materialist. By contrast. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. and the divine. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. 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. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. or separation into self and other. The massive machine of the modern technological. for after all. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. which is rife with the language of objectification. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. transformative. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory.
psychology. in theosophic works. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. A R T.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. nature. To this we now turn. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. but also for society itself. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. magic or theosophy. and the divine. troubadours and chivalry. to name only a few. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. including elements of the sciences. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. profound connections between humanity. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. of awakening latent. As we have seen throughout this study. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. in particular. inner territory. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. the Lullian art. Buddhism. L I T E R AT U R E . but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. after all that we have surveyed. and the arts. too. at least for some. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. If so. which is to say. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. 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. scientific or otherwise. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. But to begin to explore this new. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. religion.
at this juncture. . the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. to write presupposes already having seen. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. a friend of Yeats. to turn to a poet. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. In his book Song and Its Fountains. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. A. . Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. and the divine. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. It may be of use. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. nature. E. E. rejoicings. . To use Plato’s metaphor. images. but of reality. ascends to “that high state where. and indeed. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. E. not the life of shadows. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. as we have seen. 1867–1935). visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. he tells us. (George William Russell. Naturally. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. The poet’s psyche. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. as the seers tell us. found throughout Western history. 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. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. 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 . In this esoteric view of literature. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination.”111 Unconscious of creation. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. Indeed. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. joys. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. A. beyond history. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. In this view.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. he simply began to murmur line after line. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. A. But A. E.
the creation of poetry in A. “I have. it draws nigh to its own divine root.”114 A far exile from that glory. There was neither sight nor sound.”115 He understood something of the psyche. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence.” he wrote. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. from a descent after an ascent. Yeats. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. the poet.” Thus. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. later discussed with W. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. A.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. 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. E.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance.”117 For this reason. looks upon the poet as a prophet. recognized his limits. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. Yet A. even if unaware of precisely how or why. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. A. “and then what was originally a motion in deep being broke into a dazzle of images which symbolized in some deep way a motion of life in that profundity. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. A. E. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. A.”116 Still. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. and song. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. perhaps surprisingly. E. E. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. but all was a motion in deep being. analyzes the movement of consciousness. E.”113 This movement of consciousness A. and after that images. E. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. B.” he wrote. E. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. gone inward into itself. was later translated into words. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. but of the universal spirit he understood little. though too often they have not kept faith . that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul.
characters they had never met in life. E. when we seem most alone. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos.”121 These insights of A.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. E. 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. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. they come “trailing clouds of glory. or division into self and other. as did the sybils of old. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. But at times they still receive the oracles. the further we come out of the animal Nature. E.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. may. returns to the cave of constrained or dulled ordinary life to create written works that are themselves also permeated with the seer’s visionary realizations. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. Thomas Bromley. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650).” The psyche. . and imbued with this new visionary understanding. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. And A. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. . still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. .150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. when it becomes truly self-conscious. A. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. the view of literary creation that A. and they wove into drama or fiction.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. for instance. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. in that solitude we may meet multitude. Throughout our investigations. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. 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. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. E. In Christian theosophy. In essence. without knowing it. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification.” And there is more.
become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. E. a novel. more powerful. takes place on a field midway between audience and author.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. the book or work has been separated from its writer. like theater. for instance. Of course. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. In the first case. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. One becomes what one sees. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. which no earthly Distance can hinder. fiction. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. there also is participation in what is observed. in the latter case. symbols. although there is still an observer and what is observed. We are carried along on the words of the author. by A. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. absorbed completely in a book. the author also is not directly present. or of Captain Ahab. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . passive. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. on the other a visionary poet. Reading. and we must. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. and so requires our sympathetic participation.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. In this realm. where. E. and the world is shot through with light. and experiences. in A. or drama. and to one another in the Internal. Likewise. say. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. as if we knew them as neighbors. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. But nonetheless. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. in between both author and reader. the poet is more like a receiver. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other.’s case.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. In Bromley’s case. For who. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. and taken on a kind of life of its own. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. One experiences great bliss. at least temporarily. as if by happenstance. and between the models that they represent. which later emerge in poetry. events. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. and nearer both to Heaven. irrespective of time or distance—and A. E.
or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. of course. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. for example. . one turns away from the painting. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. existing in a supraphysical dimension.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. The difference. 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. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. essays. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. We see this in the Book of Revelation. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. our authors tell us. but eventually puts the book down. 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. symbolizes eternal conditions. We see this also in the insistence of Böhme that one must read his work with an attitude of humility and reverence for the divine or suffer lasting consequences by stirring up wrathfulness in one’s consciousness. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. writing. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. drama. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. and books. presumably. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. in alchemical work. For when a reader engages in a literary work. and in Kabbalistic practice. 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. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. Ordinary. and one has entered a new world. By contrast. And indeed. habitual self is gone. and one enters into the new birth. playing for keeps. Perhaps. whereas the esotericist is. fiction. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. the visions of the theosophers are real. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. magic is real. Of course. or to have it stricken. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. we might reverse the terms.
R. Jacob Böhme. but there is much more to be done. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. Thomas Bromley. or Kabbalists—by self-election. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. the Kabbalist. the Kabbalist. Secret Societies. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. Yet at the same time. Johannes Tauler. the gnostic. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 153 Yet it may be that the two versions of the game remain essentially similar. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. gnostics. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. lives on. If a primary aim of the alchemist. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. fiction. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. and may even connect profoundly with each other. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. Ramon Lull. Abraham Abulafia. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. but what came into existence through him. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. the alchemist. But fundamental questions remain. Nicholas . R. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. their works like second nature. the literary work. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. is to attain paradisal immortality. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. John Pordage. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. so too is the author. Meister Eckhart. in the process of creating a fictional world. Jane Leade. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object.
to be guided by the author. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. 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). Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work.” It may well be. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. but in every case.124 The Ungrund. taken together. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. moreover. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. for as I have discussed elsewhere. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. 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. literature. 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.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. in the . “add it to his own arsenal of power. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. and indeed even God himself. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. Berdyaev tells us. the author is reaching out. to in Emerson’s words. 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.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. and consciousness. 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. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. esoteric or not. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. In being. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. therefore. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. precedes all being.
the artist. “it is an end of this world.” he writes. fictional. Nishitani Keiji. the artist. and especially on the . As Berdyaev points out.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. particularly the arts of literature. of creativity. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. a different sort of knowledge. or to put it another way. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. “Creative activity. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. and its expression in human creativity. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions.” and “is the beginning of a different world. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. issues from existential eternity. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. and therefore of division. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. then how could the indefinite extension of personality.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. 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. It is knowledge.
and has the effect not of separating. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. of course. or “true emptiness. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. and us from them. and indeed. it is not something we are free to do as we please .”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . “an equality in love. that is. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. In Nishitani’s work. one retreats into self even further. self-identically. . . self-centered consciousness. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. or perhaps better still. This is the field of shunyata. While this is our own act.”128 True emptiness. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. for faced with nihility. 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. As rational or personal beings. As we have seen throughout this study. egoistic mode of being. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. What .” Authentic freedom is.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. . in other words. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. The force of destiny is at work here. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself .” an “absolute openness. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. or the emptiness of all things. Nishitani affirms. . “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. . Nishitani. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. . This intensifies our narcissism. or rather in unison. Out of this transcendence alone. emerges authentic freedom. what is the same thing. the choices of the will. is beyond definition. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved.
in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. The Western esoteric traditions. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. seen as a whole. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. for all their diversity. political. Paradoxically. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 157 appears to be other—the cosmos and the divine—turns out in this process of revealing the fundamental self-other unity to be in fact indivisible from our inner nature. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. including paintings. But in any case. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. . anything that can be read or written. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. or even linguistic construction. with nature. joined together with one another. We read and are read. as the sense of self and other diminishes. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. 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. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. so Western esotericism suggests. write and are written. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. a calling toward what we are meant to be.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. language is indeed divine. It can lead us.
I retain the conventional distinctions between the capitalized terms Gnostic or Gnosticism (when referring specifically to figures or the current belonging to late antiquity) and the uncapitalized gnostic as a more general term not tied to any particular era. see Antoine Faivre. See www. including Wouter Hanegraaff. See Hanegraaff.edu ] for articles. the official Web site of the ASE.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. ibid.aseweb. 159 . much of it in French. 1992). ed.edu. mostly by North American scholars.msu. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. 1994).Notes INTRODUCTION 1.. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. 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. 3.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. in this field. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill.esoteric. a Dutch scholar. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. Faivre. For an overview of Western esotericism. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents.org. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. See Steven Katz. 4. 2. 5. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. See also the journal Esoterica [www. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. See Arthur Versluis.esoteric.msu.
“Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. 10–15. Gnosis and Literature (St. (London: Sheldon. John Pordage. 1973). p. 6. See Frederick Goldin. 97. cit. 1992). Dreams. Paragon House. CHAPTER TWO 1. 14. Sophia. 8. p. Mircea Eliade. See ibid. 76–106. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 1974). 9. 111. See Charbonneau. eds. 83 ff. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. 1991).. in Arthur Versluis. 3. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. E. trs. 18 ff. See Faivre. See Versluis. 51–89. Translation is mine.. CHAPTER ONE 1. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. 4. 2. p. p. Paul: Paragon House. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. p. 219–233. Nag Hammadi Library. Peers. pp. pp. 1975). Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. pp. pp. pp. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. p.. 1978). pp.. 248. p. 145. Victor Sogen Hori. 180. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. Ibid. pp. see also Scholem. See Versluis. 1999). Myths. Paul: Grail. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. p. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. Ramon Lull. 37 ff. 2. Jean La Fontaine. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. 4. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. 1863). The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. Nag Hammadi Library. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. 223. 13. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. 11. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1996). .” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. pp. Paul. 1965). 1986). 7. 2000). 140. 14–21. Paul: Grail. whether they know it or not. 2000). See Gershom Scholem.. pp. 5. 5. 2000). See. 151. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. 309. op. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. See Arthur Versluis.. 10. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. p. 12. ed. 307. 3.
I. 26. Scholem. 280. 18. 298 ff. p.77. 10.. 11. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. Joseph Blau. Ibid.325. 1779). 19. 22.. p. Dan. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. 59. Doctor Illuminatus. see also Moshe Idel. 1965). 52. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. 250. 25. cit. 15. See A. Ibid.205b–206a.205b. 1988). 1964). ed. 30. 49–50.C. 9.. 51. 1969).320–323. p.76. See Arthur Edward Waite. 246. I. 57. and Françoise Secret. 66. IV . ed. ed. Simon. See Scholem. 31.. for instance.. 13. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. 27. Ibid. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. I. II. p. 101–102. 1983). p.. Ibid. C. Vasoli. 35. See Pico della Mirandola. Cassirer. 37. I. in The Zohar.. op. 197. See Moshe Idel. trs.. p. 36. 1986). 57. 23. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. p. 33. I. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. 278. p. Gershom Scholem. 270. 21. Origins.. 20.331. p. 14. pp.B. 1984).. Ibid. Origins. p. eds. 1985). p. M. trs.. Ibid. 28.314. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. p. Bonner. 61. 24. Ibid. 16. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. II. (London: Soncino. II. Origins. 17. . ed. Ibid. A. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.. Cassirer. Ibid. op. Ibid. See. ed. 1979). as well as Antoine Faivre and F. 1992). 34. 38. 32. See Verman. 7....80 ff. 188.8.131.522. see also Scholem. (Hildesheim: Olms. 394. Ibid. 1961). 1987). p... Ibid. 29.. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1953) I. Opera omnia... op. See Mark Verman.. Twersky. p. II. 197. pp. cit. et al. Ibid.. p. Tristan. See Verman. See J. I. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press.351. 29. 12. cit. p. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. Zohar IV . The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. Ibid. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ibid. I.
See Josten. see Donald Dickson. 50.. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. 1615). Freemasonry. table of contents. From von Welling. 42. 246. William Huffman. 44. a cosmologist. See Versluis. 37.77. 67. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . including two physicists.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. 51. (Cassel: Wessel. 43. Ibid. p. Fama.. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. 46.102–104. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. 49. for text. and others. and even chart them astrologically. Ibid. . p. a musician. Ashmole. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. 1988). C.A. p. Fama. 54. 1997). University of Texas at Austin.. Ibid. Ibid. Secret Societies. M. for the reader’s convenience.681.. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press.. der gantzen weiten welt . Ibid. 62. 47. p. Confessio. 45. . 60. 253. Theatre of the World. 61..O. Fama. 52. Ibid. Frances Yates. Ibid. 40. Confessio. 129. 57. II. See also Marsha Schuchard.M. p. H. . 238. ms. (Cassel: Wessel. D. I. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. 1975). Confessio. Ibid. Ibid. I have translated this work of Pordage. See Versluis.. . p. p. p. diss. and also written an extensive commentary on it. p. 48.. 242.. I. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon.P. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. Ibid. See Frances Yates. cit. . See. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. The following page references are to Yates. 220. See Versluis. 1999). 257. 255.. Ashmole. 77. 252. 251. Ibid. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. 1966). 63. 221. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. for background. 58. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. 1784). Yates.A.. p. p. 56. p. a theologian. Confessio. p. p. op. 260..D. 1971).. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall.. 1998). in a group called the Round Table. Ibid.. 55. p. p. Fama. p. 371. Ibid. 22. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates.. ed. 59.. 49. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. The Alchemy of Art. Resicrucian Enlightenment. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. ed.O. 1972). See. p.M. 241. 53. p. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. forthcoming. Hall. 41. Josten.
11. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. 268. H. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. 9. Religion. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. Ibid.. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. On Emerson and Hermeticism. 162–168. See M.. 191. 1967). 6. 3. 110. (London [Philadelphia]: B. Faivre... 7. see Versluis. 253. 8. 66. Ibid. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson.. See also Bernard Fay. Ibid.. pp. 1985). See Marsha Keith Schuchard. p. cit. 1992).. 654. . 414. 4. 240. changes. 67. D. E. See James Anderson. 10. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. 1734). See George David Henderson. 2001). p. Milosz. 170–171. Ibid. Brown. 1952). 66–67. see also Max Ernst. See Dickson. and Albert Cherél. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. p. Freemasonry. pp. 1992).. 1997). 417. 2. 1926). 70. 68. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. 1935).NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. S. . p. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. 247–249. Hugh Trevor-Roper. M. Franklin. CHAPTER THREE 1.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. Ibid. p. (New York: Crossroad. ed. See also Schuchard. 39. p. ed. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. Charge I. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. 256. Ibid. citing B. Ibid. Ibid. 5. 2002). p. pp. 172–173. pp. Warlick. 1948). O. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. 71. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. regulations .” 99–134. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. 65. pp. op. p. pp. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. the Reformation. p. . Mazet. 257–272. M. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. Revolution and Freemasonry. V de L. Sloane. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. . A. pp. and Margaret Bailey. p. 170–171. See Edmond Mazet. Paul: Grail. 1997). and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. 69. 409.
. pp. Ibid. 1982). p. op. D. 31. see Versluis. 22. Milosz. 455. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . For the poet of the modernist era... Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. 210–211.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. p. 18. Lib. 32. 36. 300. . Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Ibid. ed. 20. introduction by Albert Gelpi. D. Ibid. 157–206. Ibid. 465. H... I.115. 226–227. 25. 34. cit. pp. 297–298. 1994). p. op. Ibid. 28. 1985).. Ibid. 19. 38...... 21. 1989). Milosz. pp. 1996). I. Ibid..” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. 2001). p. 174–175. op. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp.. 206–207. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. See Versluis... 180–181. pp. pp. 158). Ibid. Susan Friedman. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. 29. 299. of course. 33. cit. 299–300. 15.. Ibid. see Steven Bullock. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. Ibid.1 ff. D. See Versluis.. 16. Ibid. 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. 277. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. pp. 204–205.. 27. . 13.. Ibid. 303. 35. 1981). 464. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. cit. 182–183. p. Ibid. The question. p. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. 224–225. p. 248. 296. Milosz.. pp. 39. p. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Ibid. p. See W. Ibid. For a more extensive study. 48–52. 24.. 37. Ibid. Ibid. Scott. Ibid. 14. 469. 26. trs. 23.. 17. pp. 30. p. 40. pp. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. 178–179. pp. 41. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 8–9. pp. pp. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. Friedman writes that “From her [H.’s] perspective. Milosz. . Ibid. Ibid.
Kathleen Raine.” 1. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. 46. 2001). 19. 44. 53. 20. 157. “Tribute to the Angels. Ibid. Futurism. 1998). 64. 66. Ibid. 59. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. other authors we could consider here. Ibid. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. 47. “Notes. 68. 75.. 60. H. 21.” 17. 70. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 54. “The Walls Do Not Fall. Rosenthal. 67. p.. 70. for documentation... Warlick. p.. Ibid. 73.. See Jane Augustine.” on which see TG. p. 67. 223. D. 58. as well as this entire collection of articles. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. E. 169. 284–285. p.. Ibid. 29. and I certainly recommend her article. 39. p.. pp. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press.. See H. 156–159. H. 62.. 69. Ibid. Ibid. 23. 102. ed. See M. p.” pp. Social Realism” in B. pp. 20. 13. 1988).. 1967).. 52. Ibid. p. ed. 45.. The Gift. H. 18. Ibid.. p. 66. 72. 50. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. Ibid. There are. D. p. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. p. 50–51. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. 271–272. Ibid... Ibid.. 43. 48. 55.. rpt. 33.. 63. H. 154–155. 259. See H. Irina Gutkin.” 30–31. 35. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Kraus. 222. 74. D. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. p. Ibid. Ibid. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . p. 61. 56. 225–246. pp. D. 50. 168. Rimius. D. Ibid. 1. Ibid. Ibid. 9. Ibid.... D. 49.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 51. The Gift. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). “Walls. 17–19.. 65. 71.. 32. 1997). These passages were transcribed by H.. 21... Ibid. Ibid. 57. see also. hereafter cited as TG.. pp. See. D. Ibid.. Ibid. 24. 165. of course.. 1989).
89. 382. See Collins. The Works of William Blake. op. Ibid. 70–71... p. 95. 20–21. Yeats. 88. 80. Collins. pp.. Ibid. 104–104. 94.. cit. Gareth Knight. Ibid. 127. op. hereafter noted as Meditations. 21. 84. pp. 102.. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. so I have decided not to include them here. p.. 77. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed.. Lewis. and Meditations. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. 87. 98.). 1994).166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). 79. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. I. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. 1990). cit. p. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. p. C. 239. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. Gareth Knight. cit. p.. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. 10. 322. 78.. 1997). Meditations. 1993). See Antoine Faivre. p. 40.. 291. p. 43. 102. op. Ibid. 1994). pp. Vision. E. . Ibid. 86. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. ed. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed.. p. p. 3 vols.. retained his magical regalia in his office. p. Ibid. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). Southey. Dion Fortune. p. See on this point. 95.. See for instance. Letters from England (London: Longman. n.. p.d. 88. 154. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. p. p. Vision. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 82–83. The Magical World of the Inklings. 97. Ibid. 1988) p. 197. Ibid. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. 100. C.).. Faivre. 96. Ellis and W. Ibid. S. 87.. (London: Quaritch. p.25. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. p. 124–125. including Fortune’s. 1994) p. p. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. B. Ibid. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. 85. 101. 320. 1814). 90. 40. Dion Fortune. 99. 112. Ibid. pp. Fortune. S. The Secrets of Dr. 76. 115. 83. 1893). Faivre.. 101. 82. Dion Fortune. Collins. 91. pp. 91. 323. noted hereafter as Vision. p. Poems. 92. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. 81. Ibid.. 103. 93. Lewis. Ibid. p.
p. 94. “Vorrede. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 25 ff. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. I. Irina Gutkin. Ibid. p. See Versluis. p. Ibid. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Ibid. 275 ff. p.. 199. 121. Ibid. p. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. p. 105. p. 124. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 40 and pp. See also The Destiny of Man. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. Ibid. 62–63. 78. II. 107. p. 118. Ibid.31. pp. 93. Socialist Realism.1. Freedom and the Spirit. 126. Christosophia IV .. 110... 106. 1997) p.. pp. 74. 285.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104.29–30. Ibid. Toronto: 1948). I added the colors.. 62. p. p. p. 105. p.. 1994). 170. Nicholas Berdyaev. Rosenthal.. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. for example. 130. Ibid.. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). Ibid. 71 ff. “Warnung an den Leser.1 ff. ed. 120. 95. Christosophia. 194 ff. pp. Ibid.” in B. Versluis. Ibid.. 108 ff. Ibid. p. 103.. 1978). 40.31.. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 111. 125. 127. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). See. 112. 1991). 115.. 114..” 108. pp. 119.. 1980). 122. 1957). 63.. IV . 129. Knapp. 109. 106. See Charles C..” and I.D. 128. p.. 117. 116. trs. Ibid. E. Ibid. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. Ibid. A. 1958). 225. 39. .. Peter Erb. forthcoming. Nishitani Keiji. 123. p. Ibid. 113. Futurism. Diss. p..
31 Cloud of Unknowing. 40 Bible. 97. 28. 105 Christianity [origins of]. Abbot. 1 Collins. 102. 79 Backhouse. 143–144. Franz von. 81. 59. 1. 78. 77 Bromley. 72 Consciousness. 81–82 Descartes. 129. 76 Buddhism. 75. 28. 63. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 80–82 Astrology. 14. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 148 Barrett. 141–142. 57. 52. 25 Ashmole. 5. James. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 27–28. 2 Aurea Catena. 75 Chivalry.INDEX Abulafia. Sir Thomas. 96 Dee. 5. Giordano. William. 24. 80 Böhme. 148–150 Alchemy. Moses.E. 5. 66 Corbin. 20. 28. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 61–62. 31. 93. 93. 28–29. 10. René. 142. 68. Cecil. 89. 140. Thomas. 55–67. Heinrich Cornelius. Geoffrey. initiatory nature of. 4. 68–71. 46 Christ. 51. 94. 35–43. 78. ix. Emily. 97 Cremer. 53. 24. Tibetan. 53 A. 57 Beatrice. 154 Dogen. 11 Dury. 137 Boethius. 47. 53. 129. 64. 81–82 Dee. 152 Brahe. 59 Dante. 56 Art. 150 Browne. 154 Book of Life. 56 Bahir. 139. Arthur. John. 56 Amor Proximi. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 22 Cordovero. 141 Agrippa. 94. 129–135 Comenius. William. 99 Dickinson. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 40–41. 42. 30. 138 Basilides. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 81 Bruno. Roger. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 82–83 169 . 56 Baader. Nicholas. Henry. John. 82 Bacon. Abraham. Elias. 25 Apuleius.. 2. Francis. John. 95. Tycho. 17 Blake. 80. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 147 Buddhism. 96 Berdyaev. 90. 18. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 45 Chaucer. 63 Anderson. Jacob. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite.
82–83 Heidegger. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 112 Imagination. 88-89. Gareth. 72–73 Faust. 9. 27–28 Gnosticism. 104. 29 Hiram. Andreas. 25 John. 101–102 Frey. Abraham von. 140 La Fontaine.. ix. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. Ralph Waldo. 54. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 100 Marcus. Dion. 2. 7–8 Esotericism. 42. Carlos. Brian. 5. 140 Hippolytus. 22–24 Initiation.. 44. 89. 102 Lee. 104 Gichtel. 8–9 Larronde. 105. Joseph Edward. 19. 56 Maier. ix. 7–8. Johann Georg.170 INDEX Eckhart. 137 Goethe. Edward. Mircea. 19. 89. 76. Susan. 29 Mazet. Robert. 120–122. 19 Faivre. 40 . 76 Maistre. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 151 Merswin. 2. 126. 5 Hori. 111 Geheime Figuren. 19–21. 89–103 Hermetism. 77 Flamel. Désirée. 30. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. Book of. 57 Eleazar of Worms. Christian.D. Joseph de. 69 Franklin. 50. Jewish. 21 Heydon. Jewish. 112 Friedman. 75. 46. John. 35. 21–22 Hermetica. C. 103. 106 Eschenbach. 55 Koran. 153 Homer. Georg Heinrich. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 100. 56. Jane. Max. T. 12–15. 18–21. 84 Lewis. 52–54 Kabbalah. Irina. 84. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 122 Koan. 82 Knight. 36–39 Gutkin. 107. Antoine. 127 Loskiel. 83. Johann Wolfgang. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 53. 22. 109. 63. 26–31. 56 Fludd. 8. 11 Hutton. 102 Leade. Johannes. 1 Keeble. 2. 109 Hermeticism. 120. Martin. 68. Jean. 80–81 Fortune. Herman. 104. 10–12. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 31 Melville. 77 Gelpi. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. John Scotus. 79–86. Francis. 28. Victor Sogen. 4. 123–126. Michael. 153–154 Eriugena. Samuel. 25 Hinduism. 111 Emerson. Steven. 21. Meister. 104. 65. Margaret. 97. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 90.. 100 Hirst. 2. Edmond. 43–45. 123. 78 Gnosis. Wolfram von. 46–52. Nicholas. 139 H. 51 Islam.S. 103–119 Hardenberg. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 105 Eliade. 1. Ramon. 9 Eliot. 99 Grail cycle. Rulman. 56 Jerusalem. 127 Frankenberg. 138 Katz. 101 Freemasonry.S. 112 Lull. 95 Hartlib. 57–59. 89. 103 Fuller. Albert. 102 Ernst. 129 Kelley. 50. Benjamin.
69. 52–53 Revelation. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. Book of.. 115. 87–88. 148 Platonic archetypes. 84 Reading. 152 Richter. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 70. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 71–76 Rousseau. 18.V ix. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 56 Moses de Leon. 90 Milosz. Rainer Marie. 25. 79. 60. 9. O. Gillaume. 2 Postel. 152 . Jean. J. 89–103.. 47. Christian. 67–69. Emanuel. 66 New Age. Robert. 17. 103 Pyrlaeus. 150. 69. 137. 64. 108. 2. 114–115 Thenaud. 40 Milosz. 51. 26 Tolkien. 119 Raleigh. 141 . 56 Origen. 85. 76 Parzival. 108 Rimius. Marsha Keith. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 118 Ramsay. 63. 53. 32. 29 Pre-Socratics. 105. 148 Seidel. 48 Mysticism. 46. Blaise. 140 Templars. 99 Scholem. Kathleen. 73. 36. 76 Sufism. 58 Numbers. Martinez de. 50 Schuchard. Paulus. John. 89. 139 Saint Martin. 87–88. Johann Christoph. Gustav. 21. 4 Shakespeare. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 113. Joseph. 94. Czeslaw. 23–26. 56 Swedenborg. 18. 116 Self. 68. 79. 112 Ripley. 39–40 Solovyov. 112–113 Morienus. 5 Minotaur. 138 Stellatus.R. Johannes. Johannes. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 74. Pierre. Sir Walter.R. 59. Gospel of. 75–78 Paracelsus. 52 Piers Ploughman. 46. 154–156 Norton. 21 Poiret. 52 Pansophy. 92. 40 Raine. 64 Roberts. 2.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 92. Andrew Michael. 47–48. George. 103. Thomas. René. 90 Talmud. 37–38 Pascal. 19. 105. Henry. 53 Theseus. 99 Prospero. 92. 148 Radical ecology. 14. Samuel. Bernadette. Gershom. 90. 115. William. 99. 140 Tauler. ix. Milton. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 136 Science and objectification. 53 Rilke. Marguerite. John. 99. 29–30 Olympiadorus. Jean. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 116 Nature [concept of]. 140 Tao te ching. 13. 57. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. sacred. 56. 120. 110 Southey. 4 Reuchlin. 11 Russian literature. 99 Pasqually. 123 Poimandres. 63 Rici. 32 Plato. 109. Vladimir. 53 Theosophy. 26–27 Moravians. 5. 8 Rosicrucianism. 90 Porete. 115 Pythagoras. 84 Pordage. 5. 99 Philip. 103. 43 Synesius. Louis-Claude de. 19. 14–15.
89. 120. 2. 86 Welling. 103. Georg von. 137. 111.. Jean-Baptiste. ix. Arthur. 148 Zosimos. 75 Yeats. W. 79 Willermoz. 88.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. Nicholas. Frances. 156 Zinzendorf. 10. David. 140 Valentinus.. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 55. 84 Williams. 104. 67–69 Upanishads. Adam. 122–123 Williamson. 101 Weishaupt. ix. 111 Warlick. 35–43 Ungrund. Egidio Cardinal. 31 Viterbo. 103. 10. 110. M. 63. Charles. George. 82 Troubadours. Hugh. 9.E. 116 Yates. 10. 112–113 Zohar. 64. 53 Versluis. 148 Zen Buddhism.B. 103. 106 Washington. 56 . 48.
Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 1998). 2 vols. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. 2001).. 1994). Theosophy. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. Imagination. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. 1998). 1975).aseweb.esoteric. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. along with its companion book. 1998). 1992). as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. 1956). Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1992). as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. Earlier. Gnoses. 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.org. (Graz: Akademische.msu. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. 2000). Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. eds. (Leuven: Peeters.
and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. edited by Brian Keeble.174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. 2000). Paul: Paragon House. Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 1994). This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. 1996). enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Paul: Grail. Gnosis and Literature (St. 1996). . Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. Paul: Grail. 2002). 1999). 2001).
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