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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. Literature. and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s . Art.
No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. 3. Anne M. Albany. literature. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. cm. art. 2. Occultism in literature.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . recording. Occultism in art. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. II. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. 90 State Street. I. mechanical. Laurie Searl Marketing.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. magnetic tape. NY 12207 Production. Title. Suite 700. Authur. p. Series. BF1411. paper) 1. photocopying. address State University of New York Press. Occultism—History. electrostatic. 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. For information.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
Pansophic.Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. Rosicrucian. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 .
Art.viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .
all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. ix . In writing this book. C. Milosz. V. H. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. but in keeping with my original impetus.. 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. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. S. At the very least. but as the book took shape. traditions. O. Lewis. literature. art. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources.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. and consciousness itself. figures. At the suggestion of an early reader. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. and Cecil Collins. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. Hence. but the work’s focus remains Western. D. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods.
and to Studies in Spirituality. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. Poems.D.). the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. including the adapted cover illustration. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. Milosz. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. from Trilogy. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 1985).).Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble.D. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson.. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. each of whom helped to make it a better work. from Trilogy. 2001). © 1945 by Oxford University Press. xi . and to the editors of Gnostica 3. 1994) and Meditations. 1997). (Ipswich: Golgonooza. V. de L. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared.D.
figures. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. and metaphysical or transcendent. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. mutually 1 . however. These are not.1 Here. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. religious. or conveying spiritual experiences. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. and otherwise. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. but also. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history.I n t ro d u c t i o n : I n i t i a t o r y Tr a n s m i s s i o n and the Imagination We find ourselves today at the edge of new vistas in scholarship. and perhaps even more critically. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. provoking. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. artistic. and one that has ramifications in many directions.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. even apophatic mysticism. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. the study of mysticism. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. In this book. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. are now appearing. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. Yet for this to take place. literary.
we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. this must be our primary focus. Undoubtedly. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. including alchemy. astrology. Not at all. or convey spiritual awakening. that is what this book is about. theosophy. above all this is a book about knowing. mysticism. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. magic. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. Christian theosophy. and about how we come to know. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. But the time for such biases is past. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. Like the koan. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. do have certain characteristics in common.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. philosophical. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. and social histories. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. In particular. of course. Christian gnosis. Jewish Kabbalah. or Hermeticism. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. Rosicrucianism. magic. religious. Here. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. In essence. Rather. left out of literary.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. provoke. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. 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. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. Freemasonry. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. however disparate. . examples of it include alchemy. or gnosis. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. astrology. Yet these traditions. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. however. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan.
And underlying these is. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. sects. in my view. Thus. . a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. proliferating wildly. By looking more closely at the origin. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. 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 find on the social front. despite their often almost bewildering variety. when we look at Western societies. Western esotericism is. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. what their predecessors are. when a panoply of religions. To navigate one’s way through these movements. and there are many treasures to be found there.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. a vast field. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. and to alternative forms of spirituality. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. of course. and to understand their patterns and meaning. our time resembles the early Christian era. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. therefore. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. At the same time on the religious front. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. about reading the stars. For as we will see. nature. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. the Western esoteric traditions. and cults existed side by side. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. which is often seen either as outdated. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. In many respects.
is much deeper than it might at first appear. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way.’ that is. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. we have developed machines that ‘read. of course. in other words.’ Unexamined here. By contrast. In every experience of literature.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. What is more. And when we read a great poem. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. when we read the works of an Emerson.’ itself a metaphor for our time. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. minerals and stars. purgatory. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. also about union. 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. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. and heaven. and each requires the other. why do we travel with . it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. we enter into another’s world. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. Greek in origin. and will require much elaboration. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. so too there are great readers. If there are great writers. When we read a novel. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. however. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. or spiritual knowledge. 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. The mystery of reading is. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. refers to spiritual knowledge. Likewise. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. The word gnosis. and ultimately with the divine. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. but with consciousness itself. we feel as someone else feels. reading here guides one toward gnosis. imaginatively enter into different lives. but can be transmuted.
and when we read them. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. We make connections. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. drama. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. like so many others. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. fiction. not about accumulating more information. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. where we are from. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. 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. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. and where we are going. What is more. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. 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. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. Rather. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions.” 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. and essays. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. we understand. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism.
from which we believe that we are separate. living divorced from humanity. one based not on division but on union. By contrast. Those studying the humanities. but also the even more primal act of knowing. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. including people.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. quantitative. 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. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. indeed. 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. but for connection and union. finally. the way we see the world. and everything becomes a matter of techné. people most of all. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. Certainly Western esoteric traditions were prevalent at the beginning of the modern era: contemporaneous with the emergence of modern rationalist science were completely different kinds of sciences. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. as if catalogic. or manipulation. grounded in spirituality.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. it suffuses our language. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. In this respect. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. and particularly literature. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. and the divine. most notably Western esoteric traditions. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. everything. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. nature. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. nature is reduced to “natural resources”.
alone with an author. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. crystals. In Western Europe.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. Dutch scholar Wouter Hanegraaff demonstrated that late twentiethcentury New Age movements and individuals (at least the somewhat less intellectually frothy) were frequently indebted to earlier currents of Western esotericism. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. and so to maintain clarity. works. and groups in Western European and North American history. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. And in North America as well. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. so too that choice still exists today. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. 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. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. literature. Indeed. And indeed. and so forth. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. . as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities.6 Subsequently. and consciousness. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. But the fact remains that there are also figures.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. 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. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. The reader. however.
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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-
there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. not beyond it.”11 This is. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. in his Shobogenzo. . Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art.” 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. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of 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. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. From this viewpoint.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). but into conventional consciousness . The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. . however. then it is a breakthrough not out of. 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. I believe. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. through language and image. 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. At one time. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master.
and thus also to the individual. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. I am arguing that in the West. This is not to say that the West had or. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. By . Rather. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. 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. for that matter. as I will propose here. What makes Western esotericism different above all. and in fact represents a test for the neophyte: one has to realize the nondual truth that it represents and have this confirmed by a master’s judgment. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. 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. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. as in individual daydreams.12 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E ‘mysticism’ to attempt to legislate mystical or gnostic knowledge out of existence by claiming that the gnostic is merely entering or deploying another form of conceptual language. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. frustrating though this may be. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. 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. Like the koan. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. Rather. I believe. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. as means of initiation.
guide. and employs parabolic language and images to that end.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. 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. it is for the few. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. it is not for a general readership. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. literary or otherwise. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. For instance. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way.12 As a result. the action by the act of reading or viewing. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. Obviously. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. This work is circumscribed. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. Imagination. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. the images. in other words. For example.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey.
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. Initiates. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. in other words. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. When Jacob Böhme wrote that his writings were not for those hostile to them (who would be better off not looking at them at all) he meant that the works are indeed esoteric. But there is a third perspective. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. not one’s own. and nothing less. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity.’ 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. 2. Sympathetic readers. but here a new magical earth is brought .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. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. and 3.” The gnostic. who enter into a work imaginatively. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. and this too presents problems. graspable solution to a koan. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. Yet if we answer “yes. to understand them. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. 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. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. which is what I am proposing here. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves.
It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. What is more. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. then. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. 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. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. In other words. in sum. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. to the divine power within that creates. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. but resides in a continuum between the two. This. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. is by its very nature one of co-creation. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. . 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. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. The realm of the imagination. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund.
is profoundly different. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. needless to say. we must begin in antiquity. however. death. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. the Book of Revelation. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. and. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. Here. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. This. and resurrection. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. specifically at the beginning of Christianity.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. 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. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. And to find these themes. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. From relatively early on. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. The other kind of writing. what we may call a 17 . bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word.
be characterized according to people’s approach to language. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. revelatory emphasis. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. literal. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. In Christianity. so rare—in fact. or historical. Of course. the development of Buddhism. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. The gnostics. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. and indeed. symbolic. for instance. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. By contrast. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. we can see how anomalous it is. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. be it scientific. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. as throughout world religious traditions. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. Consider. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. should it be ahistorical. or technological. that one can easily list them. the Word was not literal but spiritual.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. . Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. an ahistorical. and mythic. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. legal. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. of course. expressing a view characteristic of the mysteries more generally when he had Socrates say that writing is problematic at best because the written word cannot explain itself and is easily subject to misinterpretation. multilayered approaches. on the other hand. and on the other.
that is. In general. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. For instance. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. Who was rejected as heretical. and who else was accepted as orthodox. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. the seeds of all things. but such an approach is not for everyone. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. chiefly vowels. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. 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. but of communication.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. who are worthy of it. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. one is in touch with inconceivable power. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. here it is vertical. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. however much their literalist opponents think differently. and spiritual illumination. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. true pronunciation.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. asceticism. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. and communion. These vibratory seeds human beings may contact or activate through spiritual practice and in this way be in touch with the powers that inform creation itself. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. just . Likewise. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians.
as does the creation of images.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.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 even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. through 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. are a means to creation’s redemption. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. 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 monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. such images represent divine aspects. paradoxically conveyed often through . We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. and macrocosmically. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. 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. so the letters were altered. thereby making this conflict inevitable. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. but if the letters were properly restored. basilisks. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. 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. The letters. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. and so forth. and so forth. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. as principles of creation itself. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. 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. 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. then. Letters and numbers.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. inconceivable power would be set loose.
and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. “I know what you wish. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. but share elements in common with all three. of the mysteries tradition. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. Poimandres. “there is communion between soul and soul. in the first centuries of this era.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. “for I am with you everywhere. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. number. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing.” the being. In at least some respects.25). Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. tells him. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. which were also about death and resurrection.22b) . The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. 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. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. There is no one author of the Hermetica.” (X. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). letter. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. in symbols and myths. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence.” the “voice of the Light. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. is self-evident.” but not like an ordinary sleep.” From the very beginning. presented in the form of dialogues. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. out of which emerges a “holy Word.
precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer.” “Active imagination” refers to the meeting of an individual and transcendent beings on an intermediate field that belongs completely neither to the transcendent nor to the mundane world. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. Indeed. T H E F I E L D O F T H E I M A G I N AT I O N It is commonplace today to think of the imagination as a means of escapism— the word is roughly equivalent to daydreaming or to fantasy. always there is a fluid. and . Christian esotericism. and Hermetism. It is. However. traditions. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. Platonism. and there is a witness to the revelation. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. mercurial quality to it. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. yet not strictly philosophical either. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. Like Hermes himself. they certainly intermingled. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. 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. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. the mystery traditions. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. what we find is something quite different. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. For from what we have said. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. or direct knowledge of the divine. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. then.
or field of the imagination. quite well known. present. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. And immediately I was in the spirit. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. in the fourth chapter. where John meets. mythology. and the auditory part of the vision began. and where the earthly past. I believe that literature. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me .” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. and only then. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. and does eat. and in the tenth chapter. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. However. Yet interestingly. and future are visible. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. Rather. a mesocosm. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. a little book sweet as honey. but take place in their own time. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. he is told to eat. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. of course. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. an elder tells him to weep not. 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. apparently visionary time. Above all. Although the vision has a beginning. off the Greek coast. a throne was set in heaven. At one point. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. . there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. beginning with the Revelation to John. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. he sees the twenty-four elders.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. once introduced to this sequence. when he weeps. in other words. and he interacts with them. turned. a door was opened in heaven. Then. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). and behold. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. questions. John. came the following: “After this I looked. There are. saw and heard these things. . and behold. and one sat on the throne. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches.
And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. and Hermetism. Christian Gnosticism. 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). 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. the Book of Revelation of St. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. of course. and one hundred forty-fours. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. In the tenth chapter. and finds it bitter in his belly. John is given a little book to eat. and by eating the book. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. in other words.9). of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. But for our purposes. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. which he does.12).24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. we will recall. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. a gnostic encounter with elders. twelves. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. And then there is. One.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. angels. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. all remind us of the prior traditions. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega.13). Additionally. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. the very book that we are reading.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens.” during these the end times. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. The Revelation. becoming symbolically charged. and are in a sense initiates. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. Taken together. but sweet as honey on his lips. found in Judaism. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. John is united with its knowledge. there are “other books. of course. Every aspect of life is altered.
for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. and what is heard. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. at the mystical tradition. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. where an encounter may take place. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. splendid earthly form: but again. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. the Revelation does not stand alone. the Ascension of Isaiah. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. words. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. and of James and of Adam. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. Rather. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. Of course.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. At the same time. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. all of which belong to the apocrypha. 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 what is seen. including the two books of Enoch. seen by a seer. profoundly symbolic numbers. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. a hearer. it is an image. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. at the Kabbalistic tradition. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. 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. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. Yet because it became canonical. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field.
or put better. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. 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. as wild as the book of Revelation. The analogy of electricity. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. and exists more for entertainment. objectifying it. And though we risk being burned. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. how hieroeidetic a work is. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . often in a simple story. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. more electric. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. far more than may at first appear. to make it one’s own. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. to the transcendent. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. or from exoteric to esoteric. In other words. we are drawn toward it. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. a constellation of letters and numbers. it is certainly not the only one.’ of participation. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. without relevance to oneself. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. 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. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. So it is with the story of Theseus. ranging from external to internal. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. Esoteric literature. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. of being charged. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. 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. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside.
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
Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. but different aspects of the same way. or aeon.”3 In other words. not opposite or even complementary ways. which is of a totally different order.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. This name was composed of four syllables. in the Gospel of Philip. and numbers emerge in. the first of which had four letters. or one will . a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. there is earthly marriage. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. we become intimate with them. 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 there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. For instance. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. and its light “never sets.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. Indeed. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. VI. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature.xxxvi). and the entire name had thirty letters. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. and in religious experiences. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. For to read the metalanguage of the cosmos is truly to read the Book of Life—a figure for the hidden energies or powers that inform life both in the cosmos and in ourselves. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. and reveal transcendence. in dreams. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. we participate in what they represent. As we ‘read’ these images. we find plays on naming and namelessness. although we refer to them by the same names. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. words. sacred images. 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. embody. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve.
divided consciousness. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. for the aeon is fullness for him. 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. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. The cosmos is no longer opaque. . But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. but rather. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. Rather. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. for such a one the world is transparent. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. characteristic ways of understanding.”4 In other words. not hidden in the darkness and the night. elusive. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. the unnameable. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. not to arbitrary designations. evokes. when one dies. indeed. The nameless and the named are not divided. 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. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. Here naming refers. gnostic paradigms. is. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. The world has become the aeon. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. 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. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. but its inseparable companion. but is free in life and in death. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images.
my dear brother. A fourth characteristic is imagery. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. According to rational consciousness. which all proceed from the one only essence . including Piers Ploughman. letters.”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. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. of course. without masters. everyone. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. separated from the subject who sees.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). but men have sometimes lowered them to it. and are visible in major European literary works. however. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. Here. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. What is more. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. whether visible or intellectual. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. More intimately. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. On the lowest level. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. on which conventional mathematics is founded. Even more intimately yet. in his own degree. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. which is the mystery of words and of the book.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. . By contrast. to which I have already devoted some study. Out of the gnoses of numbers. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. nor wholly from without. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. a third characteristic. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. . They are only the sensible expression. of the different properties of beings. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. and therein we obtain the pure key. woven together into a . Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception.
letters. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. to become it. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. whether. from antiquity to the present. taken together. By following the courses of Western esotericism. Greek. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. words. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. Christian. often do not hold at all. and traditions best express his understanding. Egyptian. 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. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. and images. . just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. but also to convey it. Jewish and Christian and Greek. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. numbers. 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. Roman. Its mysteries of names. in one form or another. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. images.
35 . sees her (or him. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic.2 H i s t o r i c a l C u r re n t s DIVINE SERVICE: C H I VA L R Y A N D T H E T R O U B A D O U R S It is. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. in giving honor to his beloved. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. of course. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. 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. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. The troubadour. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works.
Much more likely that here. is no.36 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Thus there is implicitly a dual quality to much of the writing associated with each of these traditions. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. But when we look at these movements as a whole. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. particularly the chivalric tradition. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. for example. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. Instead. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. 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. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. I think. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. never explicitly discussing. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. 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 in the songs of the troubadours. or love’s faithful. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. . likewise. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election.E. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. that is to say. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. even surreptitious. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. Of course.
for the name disappears. noble angels. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. . both pagan and Christian.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. there is no need to erase it. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. In any event. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. He found that a man named Flegetanis. but there is another source. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. but God may have taken them back. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. Hearing this. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). a hermit. whence had come 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. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. and has a rich reward in heaven. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. those who did not take sides.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. Naturally. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. For. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. and this is the mystery of names. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. teacher of Eschenbach. and to whom God sends his angel. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. we are told. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. For instance. occupying a middle ground between these. worthy. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. then the chivalric life is his one desire. that is. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars.
Throughout the tale.” chiefly Saturn. 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. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. and at the end of the tale. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. then naming them one by one in Arabic. like chivalric literature more generally. He was to ask. and that of all the Grail servers.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale.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. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. then their sorrows would end. and if he asked a Question. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . This theme clearly holds for both men and women. entertaining. When inevitably she does so. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. and that is the exalted position of women. of course. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. And at the book’s conclusion. just as is Western esotericism more generally. Saturn to suffering. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. Yet this implicit esotericism. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. The Grail. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. we are told to honor women. we will recall. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. Rather. the knight is told by Feirifiz. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. of course. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question.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. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. For instance. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. in particular. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. but also with the changing of the moon. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. the spotted knight. Parzival. remains this-worldly in emphasis. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name.
as I have elsewhere shown. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center.3 Thus the passage on the pentangle is nested within a larger context of number and letter symbolism carried on by way of the poem’s repetition of key letters and numbers. the poem. but with the five fingers.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. Gawain’s symbol. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. This famous passage. like Grail tales more generally. in the image of the pentangle. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. And this green marks my second point of observation. First. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. part of a tradition that. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. marking why Gawain is a fine man. loving kindness. Once again. 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. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. of course. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. with the five wounds of Christ. the first is the true knot. the five virtues.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. is marked with a tiny colored initial. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. like several others in the poem. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. he ultimately feels shamed. When Gawain. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table find the story not only funny but so instructive that they all decide to wear a green girdle like Gawain’s. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. Yet in the story’s conclusion. and. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . these being liberality. continence. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. At the end of Gawain. the number of maidens serving the Grail. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. in Gawain as in Parzival. and piety. courtesy. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy.”] Or again. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. like the chivalric orders.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. although a lay group. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. perhaps cunning can. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. yet it is also the symbol of new life. to be renewed. and renewal. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the .” or “the Green Isle. not monastic or priestly. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. One does find esoteric themes. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. yet at the same time. Gawain. This same duality inheres in the color green. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. green is the color of nature.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. growth.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. and the illicit.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. Or again. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. / And since talking directly can’t help us. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. the hidden divine messenger. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere.” The Friends of God were. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. pus nons val arditz.
philosophical. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . with a final vision about which he will not now write. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. albeit more literary.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. poems. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. and his commentary. time. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. in the ninth hour of the day. This is. and words and ideas into the empyrean. but the faculty of imaginal perception. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. 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. calls upon the “book of memory. like the great Divine Comedy. is a visionary poem. La Vita Nuova. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. and exactly nine years later. this time wearing a white dress. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. an intervening figure in the tradition. And of course. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. Dante ends this strange work. as in the Divine Comedy. as does the play that we see here on naming. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. of course. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. thrice-blessed Lady. we end by passing beyond space. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. Thus Dante’s greatest works. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. full of images. of course. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. 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. who lived during the fifth century. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. and here. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. There is. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. In De consolatione. Dante sees Beatrice again. Boethius.
especially of the knight for his lady. And these are evoked . Chaucer was not an esotericist.” with “festes.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. however. 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. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. the theater of art. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. Earthy.” In that “portreiture. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). yet he went further. instrumentz. daunces” around her. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. knarry. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. Chaucer. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. marked east and west by gates of marble. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. But all the same. bareyne trees olde. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. and of divine service. known as a primary literary figure in English history. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. above all. with an oratory. 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. We see in Chaucer’s tale.” and by “kervere of ymages.” Thus this tale.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. Here. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life.” “gastly for to see. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. caroles. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. here. Like Dante. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems.
a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. bringing together the chivalric. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. The Book of Contemplation. Ars brevis. For although Lull. “knowledge” and “remembrance.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. In the ninety-ninth chapter.” The Art represents. literature is not only entertainment. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. Not surprisingly. The lover answered. (a kind of chivalric code). and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. troubadour. not just a set of correspondences. 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. Lull. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. At this juncture. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. In fact. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. we are given the meditations of the hermit. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. like Chaucer. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. and Ars generalis ultima. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. and this is no accident. one for each of the 365 days of the year. but with the advent of rationalism. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. and indeed. was prolific. given its astonishing scope. (part of his romance Blanquerna). He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. and of course his most well-known and influential works. These terms. until he was thirty. 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. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art.” are familiar to students of . We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative.
west. and by writings. but for purposes of clarity. This extraordinary art. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. that is. images.’ They asked him. north and south. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. Here we find a clear condemnation. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . but of those done with the wrong attitude. and images. However. By means of these letters. we are also participating in this relationship. invoking evil spirits as good angels. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. The cosmos represents the divine writing. he condensed his art into nine letters. not of figures. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. out of arrogance or presumption. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. and writings in themselves. since my Beloved contains all. images. most of all in the exposition of his art. And through presumption. as the readers of Lull’s book. whose influence extended across Europe.” In this falsified knowledge. Further. just as the writer is in his book. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. 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. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. Of course. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. all errors are implanted in the world. and that is the book. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. ‘Yes. Originally.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover.’”5 The world is a book for those who can read: this is a constant refrain within the Western esoteric traditions from antiquity to the present. and writings. Lull used more letters.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. and profaning holy things with figures. rather than my Beloved in the world.
probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. emerging as it did largely in a Spanish ambience perfectly suited to the meeting not only of the primary currents of medieval Christian esotericism—including the chivalric and troubadour—but also of Islamic and Jewish esotericism. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. concordance. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. tables. for instance. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. At the same time.” C signifies “greatness. justice. for example. difference. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. E—Potestas. depending upon how the letters are combined. For instance. The Lullian art. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. what?. triangles. Hence in many respects. 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. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. has vast implications. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. Of course his work is unique. For this reason.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. prudence. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. In the full art. it includes and transcends logic. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. trees. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. B—Bonitas. “goodness. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. found in the Ars compendiosa. whether?. Lull himself combined them using circles. I— Veritas. God. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. and gluttony. 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.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. B signifies. and numerous other arrangements. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. 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. or that from the Ars brevis. and so forth. and avarice. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. . which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. angel.
And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic 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. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. intricately woven. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. troubadour. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. the words. but this is virtually never the case. and Lullian traditions lived on far past their apparent demises: all of them fed into the emergence of the Western esoteric traditions that began to flower in the seventeenth century.or eighteenth-century German. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. Chivalry influenced future esotericism by providing a code of conduct that as it became individualized or fed into smaller initiatory groups took on esoteric force even as it lost power as a system of social organization. Christian. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. however. Rosicrucianism. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. But there is another element as well that we must recognize: all of these authors in turn manifest unique combinations of tendencies or currents that preëxist and transcend them. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. and Freemasonry. And as literature. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. or English gnostic. the chivalric. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. of course. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. In these traditions. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. but what is more. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. French. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. . with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). Rather. It is. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely.
Castile. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. 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. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. and Kabbalism more generally.9 Yet at the same time. and thus Kabbalism. disclosing them only in parabolic language. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. also may have roots elsewhere. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. and elsewhere in Europe. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. terminology. 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. dating to the Talmudic period.E.” Scholem concludes. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. 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. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. For instance. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. And in fact. number. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. .8 But for our purposes. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. But the Bahir. and cosmogony. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. for instance. “The affinity with the language.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir.
”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. as a female is fertilized from the male. for example.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. 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. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. but another view. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. including the human body.11 Of course. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. In section 124. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. writing the Names of God) and through this power. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. For example. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. 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. caught up in the spirit. 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. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. which comprise a total of 613 letters. informing the cultural. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. the tonal accents. But in any event. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments.” Indeed.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. supported by some contemporary testimony. spiritual. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. and natural realms at once. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism.” (that is. said to symbolize the abdomen. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew.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.
in this context. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding.”14 In other words. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence.”17 By investigation.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. the tenth letter. out of it emerges the Names.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. all comprehension and thought. sum and computation of the explication of the Ineffable Name [of God]—unique in the branches of the root of vocalization that is magnified in the thirteen types of transformation. and yod in turn becomes twenty. in the Fountain of Wisdom. eighty.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. not even Moses.”18 This.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. Through this kind of multiplication.” about which no one. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source.” One can easily see. .” which may or may not itself be an “a. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. inquiry . “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. forty. For instance. yet when these Names are removed. . one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt.” Thus we can see how by way of ascent through the Names one arrives at the hidden true nature of existence—and within this is the mystery of the a. the essence of everything. corresponding to yod. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life. 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. . Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. voice. action . speech. made transparent so . an ¯ “ether. Here. but My Face will not be seen. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. . all are found in this Name. and 160. whispering. or aleph. we are told. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. utterance. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. from reading this extraordinary work. so to say. is allowed to ask questions. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them.
Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. broadly speaking. 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. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. but also metaphysical. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. not from this side. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. including thought. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness.20 For that matter.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. Indeed. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. Medieval Kabbalism. emerges. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. sometimes without. then. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. but from the other. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. is not only cosmological. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. ’En sof literally means “infinity.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. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. as Scholem remarks. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. that of hardened or congealed materiality. All of these exist.
lar thing as language is its essential life.”21 In fact, for the Kabbalists letters have a plastic quality: in forming words, they are forming also the actual divine nature of things, so that to enter into the mysteries of words is to penetrate beyond language as we ordinarily conceive it into the hidden nature of God himself. Here again we have come upon the dual nature of language: there is exoteric language, which is veiling and limited; and there is esoteric language, which is unveiling and virtually unlimited in its ramifications. Particularly in the case of Kabbalistic word and letter combination can we say that esoteric uses of language are virtually unlimited in effect, for Kabbalism has since at least the time of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (c. 1165–1230) and Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (c. 1240–1292) employed techniques of linguistic recombination that in turn, if practiced over a period of time, result in ecstasy and visionary illumination. In the case of R. Eleazar and Abraham Abulafia, the technique entails combining the Tetragrammaton with the letters of the alphabet in order to bring one to a transcendent state of divine knowledge or gnosis. According to Abulafia, this technique, which requires isolation, prolonged practice, and special breathing techniques, “draws down the supernal force in order to unite it with you.”22 Thus esoteric language is not only a guide toward gnosis, it is here the actual means to gnosis. Central to Kabbalism is esoteric language. Isaac of Acre, for instance, distinguished between the mere acquisition of knowledge through ordinary learning and the direct gnosis by the intellect.23 And his predecessor Isaac the Blind used the analogy of a great tree, in which inward and subtle essences of wisdom (hokhmah) exist and move through the tree like sap. We partake of this wisdom, or sap, by “sucking,” which is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge from that gained by ordinary reading; it is a participatory gnosis in which we directly experience the essence-language of creation itself, moving in and through all that is. Here again we have reading and writing that go far beyond what we ordinarily regard them as—here esotericism and literature are totally fused. Such analogies and definitions as that of the tree, or “sucking,” or for that matter of celestial reading and writing, do indeed correspond to those of the ancient Gnostics; and like the ancient Gnostics, the Kabbalists too produced a wild profusion of works expressing variants of a complex and profound cosmology, as well as a metaphysics of absolute transcendence. In Kabbalism, as in ancient Gnosticism, we find the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, to be prominent, and indeed even find the teaching in Kabbalah of the higher and lower Shekhinah, which parallels the teachings of some Gnostic sects regarding a higher and lower Sophia. There are numerous parallels, but this does not mean that there was direct influence. In any event, this profusion of Kabbalistic works and teachings in turn was to have an immense influence on the subsequent history of Western esoteric
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traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of
language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century
If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. and beauty. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. much less the possibility of transcendence. In the eighteenth century. . or vice versa. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. Indeed. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. But before discussing these implications. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. To such approaches. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions.54 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E treatise on Cabala alluded to a Kabbalistic doctrine of universal restoration. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. which is. intricacy. In the twentieth century. or vice versa. Here. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. And when we look at Kabbalism. literature represents portals into the transcendent. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. For Kabbalah. that is. after all. ramified throughout religious and literary history. Such an approach to literature. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. that ultimately all beings will be saved. Spain. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. however unfamiliar to us today. surface is nothing and depth is everything. where one finds literature and religion fused.
because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. to work it through. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. itself also highly literary: the koan. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. Indeed. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. as we saw earlier. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. as the “art of Hermes. forces one to wrestle with it alone.’ yet not entirely Christian. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own.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.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. So too. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. not entirely ‘pagan. like the alchemical expression or riddle. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. on the other transmitted by way of literature. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. we cannot help but notice religious references. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. Of course. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. To the first-time observer. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. When we look at European alchemical works. However. . to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. alchemy. hence on the one hand religious.
that is. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. After all. be they in the mineral.. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. Roger Bacon. Synesius.. at heart. One places oneself in the line of what is. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. 825–932 C. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. 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. 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 might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. either.—latinized as Rhazes). even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. . even if it does not entirely belong to these.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. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. All of these authors did write on alchemy. a tradition transmitted through literature.E.E. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). in the revelation of paradise. even if its work resembles these in some respects. and Morienus of the seventh century C. Ramon Lull. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. or al-Rhazi (ca. plant. Thus. George Ripley (fifteenth century). put another way. Indeed. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. the vegetable. thirteenth century). partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). For alchemy extends into many realms. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working.E. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. or the animal kingdom. as has historical placement. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. alchemical literature. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. and takes place by way of fire. the embodying of spirit. and the spiritualizing of the body. Olympiodoros. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal.
and gave it to us by mighty toil.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. Here. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. If thou knowest the substance and the method. physician. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. . But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. bracketed by mythological references. Indeed.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. in his preface. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. and thou knowest all.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. and are to come. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. were. . For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. seek not many utensils for thy labor. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work.” In other words. of course. Maier. . His title. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine.” that is. which Vulcan cast into the sea. it is enough. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). Thomas Norton. “The Golden Tripod. and author Michael Maier. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. composer. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines.
Shortly thereafter. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. in the background a dead tree stump. and that which is palpable. on the far left side a single candle. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. being bereft of images . despite its elliptical means of expression. to be invisible. while the Moon. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. the Sun. Here you see the perfection of our Art. . “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. and to the queen’s left. is at once literary and practical. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. to become impalpable . a half-naked man with a scythe. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. 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. including two archers shooting at targets. that which is visible. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. and a man sowing seeds. the queen a three-flowered plant. and proved of the greatest efficacy. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. and this Mars has done. he cured a sick fellow monk completely.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. a king and a queen.” With its spiritual essence. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. while around him are various figures.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box.” pleads the case of her husband. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. as well as an angel blowing a horn. before him a burning barrel. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. over a fire. . On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. the king bearing a staff.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain.
Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. of course. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. and tortured for four years.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. so as not to lose legibility over time. three of rabusenum. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. two of living sulphur. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. and prepared in about four days. Dalton said he was happy to die. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. we are told. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. 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. 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. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. a man named Herbert. two of orange arsenic. In recent times. of . This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. and two of willow charcoal. Cremer in this. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. Such. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. Thus we can see that Cremer’s instructions are in fact quite specific and truly are largely devoid of the literary passages found in the previous two tracts. and so was let go. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman.”35 And indeed. his last testament. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. strong and pure. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art.
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. allegories. And of course. epigrams. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. but is joined with them in the imagination. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. Of course. Through these evestra. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. Confronted with such a colloquy. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. its subtle essence. water. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. fire. air. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. vegetable. literary allusions. not all evestra are benefic.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. ethereal counterparts.’ then. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. one may know the inner nature of anything. one branch of alchemy. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. not only by looking at words on a page. but also through the power of the imagination. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. Spagyric medicine. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. and animal realms. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. poems. Paracelsus tells us. According to Paracelsus. not merely from the outside and as other. We may ‘read. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. for they occupy different dimensions within it. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. then.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. to carry it within. But in any event. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. To say. Imagination governs the development of things.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power.
as a spirit. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God.74). geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. more real than what we see in the physical. . 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. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. . Genesis 1:27.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. light air. emphasize their recipe quality. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. The terms used in its title—oil. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. but here are clearly spiritualized. Of course. philosophy. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. including Romans 1. . flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. the true medicine and theology. It is as though here alchemy. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . . like Cremer’s testament. these two poles became further separated.” and to a host of Biblical references. This is the true Ground of Nature . II Chronicles 13:5. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. while others. may be interpreted in both ways at once. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. wine. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. a matter of . and mist. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. 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. 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. like Valentinus’s. but that in this particular worldview. fire. it is entirely real. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. indeed. and so forth. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology.
just as we find for instance Islamic . in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. the depths. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. as a kind of counterpoint. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. And so we find the three One. easily translates into a dominant religion. Oil. in harmony” (II. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. and one three .77). or Water is.83). and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. we are told. Water. like Hermeticism. and a true Medicus. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. Oil. 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. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. Thus. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work.93). and when either one is absent. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. is a perspective that is all depth. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. However. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. for instance. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works.83). nor whence they emerge (II. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. a true Astrologus. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. Yet alchemy. spiritual dimensions of the work. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. and hence we find a Christian alchemy.105). In fact. . of existence. the author writes “That the earth is dark. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. but the Sun light. but here. Salt. that is the mystery wherein all lies. Fire. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. inward dimension. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. these terms have an alchemical provenance.80). . Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it.
not merely a pastiche. But such rumors aside. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. including “Chymie” or alchemy. Indeed. astrology.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. and of the third. 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 that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. on salt. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. Christian theosophy. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). Within each of these broad sections are individual chapters whose content begins with chemical or alchemical topics and moves through these to theosophic or gnostic themes such as “The urangelical world. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. beginning with the organization of the first section. on sulfur.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. on mercury. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. Kabbalah. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. of course. 1675). detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. Pordage’s work. of the second. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. 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 . which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. from spiritual to physical. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. and Kabbalistic themes. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. The implication. and gnostic metaphysics. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. astrological. and he and his spiritual circle.
diagrams. and “Manna Coeleste. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends.” Further. For instance. . and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. to properly prepare mercury. he elided many details. with a plethora of astrological symbols.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. . the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical .” “Cherubim.” and so forth. then in a Liquorem . das himmlische Manna genannt. 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. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. or mercury. “Alchimische Fragen. . in other words.” “Thronen. charts. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. and in this regard he succeeded. but might well also be called pansophic. Christian scripture. Here. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). tables. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. At the same time. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. sulfur. diagrams. . and instructions. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. meaning the transcendent Godhead. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. of Pisa. Indeed. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. and calcify it by hand. including D. 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 . a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols.
both seek to perfect this creativity. animal. however far-reaching. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. Alchemy. Alchemy. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. but also in the microcosm of the artist. we can easily see. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. broadly seen. or grammars. and that we will shortly examine further. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. as well as with what these represent. like a painting. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. of course. air.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. fire. is a relatively modern phenomenon. One must learn both to ‘read. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. In this sense. In some respects.’ There is. for example. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. water.’ in the broadest possible sense. letters. Thus we may well say that. alchemy is like learning to use a language. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. Here. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . and to ‘write. recipes. vegetable. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. 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. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. a natural homology between alchemy and art. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. including not only chemicals and equipment.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. and images. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. but even more in the perfection of humanity. of course. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. so that everything—mineral. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art.
in the manner of a mathematical equation.’ in the case of alchemy. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. were one to decipher what x and y mean. like those of science. both of physics and of literary criticism. and the divine. The ‘solution. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism.66 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and the complex kinds of linguistic riddles visible in alchemical works. humanity. 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. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. and science are one. no doubt of that. Here in alchemy. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. Rather. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. between subject and object. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. Contemporary views of literature. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. I would use the word decoding. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. This is by no means to suggest. between the observer and that which is observed. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. It is true that more recently theorists. and the divine in ever more profound ways. literature. the approaches to transcendence and the depictions of these approaches within alchemical literature nonetheless reflect quite clearly what we have already seen to be the dominant paradigm of western esotericism in antiquity. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. In alchemy. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. But in alchemical works. religion. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. Indeed. 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. humanity. one would have the solution. extends into a range of realms at once. like Jung. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. Oral commentary by a master is important. 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. However. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. and the restoration of the right .
even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. and against the divine. 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. So it is with alchemy. nineteenth. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. R O S I C R U C I A N . in the modern era. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . especially during the eighteenth. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. and Freemasonry. PA N S O P H I C . and twentieth centuries. pansophy. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. 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. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. Rosicrucianism. Indeed. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. As we have seen. We should also keep in mind the growing split. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. divided against the world. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. in particular Christian theosophy. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. against ourselves. but in relation to a host of other currents. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. between the sciences and the . but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. In the study of Western esotericism.
instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. in Western esotericism we find. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. quite the opposite movement. and in religion. this sense of unity dissolved. and geology. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. John Pordage. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. chemistry. It is true that. and Franz von Baader. in the sciences. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. or Aurora. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. wrote literary works. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. the discovery of more complex technology. explored theology and metaphysics. rather than seeking to separate. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. physical chemistry from metaphysics. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. to name only a few of the most luminary. practiced medicine and astrology. and drawing from his visionary experiences. Indeed. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. our approach being thematic. But Western esotericism. at least in the secular world. say.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. Rather. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). The Copernican revolution. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. archaeology. medicine and astrology. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. the fields of alchemy. including. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. nor is that our aim. However. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. near Poland. a city on the eastern side of Germany. the emergence of biology. in the arts. illustration and literature. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. as well as De Signatura . in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. comparative and syncretic. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts.
Rerum (The Signature of All Things), Christosophia, and numerous letters and shorter works. Even these titles reveal the connections between Böhme and the earlier traditions we have discussed: Mysterium Magnum, with its elaborate exegesis of Genesis, is certainly indebted to the Kabbalistic tradition; The Signature of All Things is an extended discussion of, among many topics, the Hermetic doctrine of signatures developed by Paracelsus; and Christosophia, often translated as The Way to Christ, entails a chivalric ethic of fidelity to the feminine figure of Wisdom, the Virgin Sophia. What is more, there unquestionably are profound parallels between Böhme’s writings and ancient Gnosticism, parallels that became even clearer in later theosophic figures like the English Philadelphians.43 Thus we can see how Böhmean theosophy reveals the syncretism so characteristic of modern esotericism more generally; here numerous traditions meet and are fused into a profound new union that was to have enormous influence on the subsequent history of Western esotericism. Böhme’s work, according to his own testimony, derived chiefly from his own personal experience, but there is evidence that he had extensive contacts with Hermetic and Kabbalistic circles of his day, including lengthy discussions with Abraham von Frankenberg, himself an author on Kabbalistic subjects. That Böhme’s writing emerged from his own visionary perceptions and inspiration is unquestionable, for he wrote with authority and certainty about a vast range of cosmological and metaphysical principles. What is more, he developed a particular language, drawing upon Hermetic, alchemical, and Kabbalistic sources, to express this inspiration, a special terminology with both Latinate and Germanic roots. But Böhme drew from prior traditions as well, and his work may be described as unique or as a brilliant synthesis, for both are true. Although Böhme’s terminology and mode of expression are often difficult, the basic elements of his thought are not. It is true that Böhme presents a complex cosmology, with his exposition of the Ungrund, or abyss, that precedes existence and that corresponds in Kabbalism to the ’en sof, and in Christian mysticism to Eckhart’s Godhead; with his exposition of the seven source-spirits; and with his unfamiliar terms like limbus, lubet, and schrack, describing hidden principles or aspects of the creative process. Yet Böhme has been popular for centuries—from Germany to Russia and America—among those drawn to direct spiritual experience, and this popularity derives from the fact that while his doctrines are almost inexhaustible, the fundamental nature of Böhme’s teaching is clear and simple. Here I will compress a great deal in the hope of sketching the outlines of Böhme’s thought. Böhme held that before the cosmos came into being, there was the Ungrund, or transcendent abyssal origin. From this emerged two realms, the dark-world of wrath and the paradisal light-world, and after a series of primal catastrophes, a “third principle,” physical nature. Human beings
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can participate in all three of these principles; some people belong to the wrathworld of fury and destructiveness, some to the paradisal light-world, but mostly we find ourselves mediating among all of these. Our purpose as human beings, simply put, is to transmute the wrath-quality in ourselves into paradisal light and love. This process of transmutation, a kind of spiritual alchemy, is true religion; without it, religion is merely outward “Babel,” the appearance without the reality. Böhme’s approach to language is of particular interest to us, for, quite in line with the numerous currents of the Western esoteric traditions that preceded him, Böhme created a complex linguistic mysticism. In Aurora, Böhme’s first book, he introduced this mysticism of the word, writing that “The whole power of the Father speaks, out of all the qualities, the Word, i.e., the Son of God. The same word, or the same sound, spoken by the Father, issues out of the Salniter, or the powers of the Father, and out of the Father’s Mercurius, or sound . . . for the outspoken Word remains as a glory or majestic command before the king, but the sound, issuing through the word, executes the command of the Father which he has spoken through the word, and in this is the birth of the Holy Trinity. The same takes place in an angel or in a man” (vi.2). Böhme’s language here is resonant with alchemical and Jewish allusions, but these allusions appear in a clearly Christian context, and although they refer to the Word in the Trinity, they also refer to the word in humanity. Böhme extends this linguistic mysticism to every living thing. In his giant commentary on Genesis, Mysterium Magnum, he writes that “every creature has its own center for its outspeaking, or the sound of the formed word within itself, both eternal and temporal beings: the unreasoning ones as well as man; for the first Ens has been spoken out of the sound of God, by Wisdom, out of her center into the fire and light, and has been formed into the fiat, and entered into compaction. The Ens is out of the eternal, but the compaction is out of the temporal, and therefore in everything there is something eternal hidden in time” (xxii.2). Here Böhme elaborates on the metaphysics of what he also discusses in De Signatura Rerum, the esoteric view older than Pythagoras that everything in creation emerges out of its resonating linguistic, sonic, energetic origin as an emanation or manifestation of an archetype. What is more, there is a teleological significance to this doctrine. For if all beings preëxist their material manifestation in the archetypal realm of the word, after manifestation each manifested thing will return to its transcendent origin, that belonging to love returning to love and that belonging to wrath returning to wrath. Böhme writes: “In that quality in which each word in the human voice in the act of outspeaking forms and manifests itself, either in the love of God, as in the Holy Ens, or in the wrath of God; in the same quality will it be taken up again therein after it has been spoken out. The false word becomes infected by the devil, and sealed up for its [future] detriment, and is received within the
Mysterium of the wrath, in the quality of the dark-world. Each thing returns with its Ens to where it has originated” (xxii.6). This is not predestination, exactly, but rather the sifting of the chaff from the wheat at time’s end. We can see here how language is intimately tied up with the metaphysics of love and wrath. In the fallen world, wrathfulness is the principle of separation and objectification as well as of anger, and so the language of extreme ratiocination also belongs to the wrath. Reason has its place, but when it becomes separated from love, it becomes objectifying and destructive and a functionary of wrath, while language divorced from its transcendent origin becomes Babel or babble. Yet all of this refers to the fallen world, the sphere of discord, chaos, confusion. The means of order’s restoration is the Word, the restoration of light and love in one’s life. But such a restoration takes place through a process of awakening or illumination that is a process of transmuting wrath into love, darkness into light. This process is also that of restoring language from its fallen state (as a means of objectification) into its primordial state of union. This process is the awakening of the true Word in us. Böhme writes that “our whole religion consists in learning how to go out of dissension and vanity and to reënter the one Tree, whence we have come in Adam, and which is Christ in us” (Regener, viii.2). Thus, “he who fully enters into this state of divine rest in Christ arrives through Him at the perception of divinity. He then sees God in himself and everywhere; he speaks with God and God speaks with him, and he understands what is the Word, Essence, and Will of God. Such a one, and no other, is capable of teaching the Word of God himself: for God is one with him, and he wills nothing but what God wills through him” (Mysterium Magnum, xlii.63). The Word of God here has special and profound meaning; it refers to the essence of deity, the transcendent origin of existence. And by realizing this Word, one restores all subordinate language as well as nature itself (whose creatures each also incarnate divine signatures or words) to their primordial unitive or paradisal state. From all of this we can see that the fundamental impetus of Böhme’s work is integrative, not on a cultural so much as on an individual, primal level. Böhme calls the individual toward reintegration or union, and it is the individual nature of this call that has subsequently attracted so many people, in such diverse social situations, toward theosophy. But at the same time, we can easily see how this same integrative impulse aimed at individual transformation could as well be applied on a wider cultural scale, as for instance as the foundation of an effort to reunify the sciences and the humanities with religion. And in fact, such an effort is precisely what we find happening over the century following Böhme’s life, in the movement called Rosicrucianism. It may be, as some scholars have speculated, that Böhme was himself familiar with the same movement which, ten years before Böhme’s death, began to emerge under the name Rosicrucian, with the publication of the
the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. R. like us.” however.”46 When C. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. And of course this brief work. and why he is called Microcosmos.” into good Latin from Arabic. For from the very beginning of the Fama. R.. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. even if at times such orders did exist. Indeed. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. Not coincidentally. and later. they could collect Librum Naturae. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio.” C.72 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Fama Fraternitatis (1614) and the Confessio Fraternitatis (1615). of Christian theosophy as well. R. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. in the Orient. “or a perfect method of all arts. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. The Rosicrucians’ goal. R. 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. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. C. generally speaking. like its complement the Confessio. translates the “book M.. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. if not universalism. caused a great stir in Europe. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. and this is the “book M. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes.” These “Books of Nature. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. returns eventually to Germany. Hermeticism. But in any event. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. according to the Fama. are to be collected by the wise. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced.
all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. recur as well in the Confessio. .”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. Interestingly. like the book. Yet once again. and of reading the mysterious book of books. undestroyed. or hope for. wish. of eclecticism or universalism. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. that you could so read in one only book.” the Fama continues. 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. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. . For when Christian Rosencreutz died. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. “After this manner. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. first. with a large dictionary . belongs to the mind and imagination. . and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. Among other questions. or are able to believe or utter. sciences. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. . of the uniting of all arts and sciences. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. than that which is the head and sum. and shall be) hath been. . but follow only Christ. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. The description is often hard to follow. so that no one might later be deceived. the foundations and contents of all faculties. by four persons only. a century old. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. . and arts.” There is more. is. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. full of geometric symbolism. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. it is to read the universal book.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. and come into our brotherhood. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. every one with their several figures and sentences. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. they also made the first part of the book M. are now. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. and withal by reading understand and remember. called I. and hidden to the wicked world. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. and by them was made the magical language and writing. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine .”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences.
. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. of course. These aspects of Rosicrucianism.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things.” Such an idea of a magic language has. a new era for mankind. a very long history in the West. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. and made. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. . metahistorical events at the end of time. 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. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. or sixth age. yea. for instance.”52 “These characters and letters. .54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. 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. and quite probably to Egypt. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. yea. without and against the will of God. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. into all beasts . Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. the Bible. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . 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. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. a new language for ourselves. and endue them with learning . of course. and have found out. . All of this. or worse than nothing. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth.”55 The implication is that here. . for instance. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. and writing in a “magic language. and above all. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. yet shall we never be manifested .
Here we must introduce the word pansophy. and it too has been used in magical workings. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. on a pansophic mysticism. 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. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. brilliant. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. or intelligences. who.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. 1604. particularly in France. The Rosicrucian dream. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. as Frances Yates notes.” 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. that is. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . and the outrageously baroque. Here. discovered the “Enochian language. demons. was of a non-sectarian. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. 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. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. disappearing around 1620. the Confessio. or pansophia. as well as in subsequent literature. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. peaceful. By 1623. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. R.’s tomb. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. Here. or why. 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. John Dee (1527–1604). One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr.
Pansophy.. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. alchemy. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. mechanism. cabala. herbalism. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. but like Dee. magical. in contrast to theosophy. Christian or not. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. We might recall that. In many respects. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. alchemical. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. 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. and Michael Maier. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. or magia naturalis. and inquiry into nature more generally. derived from alchemy. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. is universal. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. Ruechlin. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. healing.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. and technologism. of course. in order to form the basis for a new. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. The most obviously included is natural magic. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. for instance. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. various forms of magic. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. 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.p. 1618)]. including. It is true that chemistry. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. it emphasizes magic. The pansophic view. which is specifically Christian gnosis. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. 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. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). cabalistic. often with Kabbalistic influence. and gnostic. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. not specifically Christian. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. Paracelsus.
with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations.M. almost all. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. and much else. Philosophia. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. magic squares. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation.O. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. including a French edition titled F. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. planetary correspondences. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. D. we tend to think of Faust. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. Metaphysica. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. Cabball. de La Rose-Croix.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. Among the first of these.. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. including sorcery. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. diagrams. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. In some respects.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. in later Rosicrucianism.A. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. even if it is illicit. nee non Magia. and a series of . Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. et Hyperphysica. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. chiefly under the title Physica. But Chemistry].57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. as a somewhat medieval figure. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. of vast and intricate tables.
here we have a different focus. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. is an effort to render a mappa mundi.M. the greatest occultist of his day. of course. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. in scholastic theology. Son. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr.M. partaking in both. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”].” “Vegetable Seed. marked also Father. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. and with the word Chaos. to the esoteric illustrations accompanying Johann Gichtel’s edition of Böhme’s collected works? Is this a specifically Rosicrucian illustration at all? Such questions I leave for others to answer. in time and in eternity. or to Rosicrucianism. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. Here. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. in visual form. of its hyperphysical dimensions. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’.A. surrounded by winged angelic forms.” and so forth. for instance.” and “Mineral Seed. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols.” “Animal Seed. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos.O. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world. for instance. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography.O. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. and Holy Spirit. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D.A. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period.” “Heavenly Seed. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. that is. .]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. John Dee.
This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. and specifically. who studied minerology. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. (London: 1665). Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. of course. or the Temple of Wisdom. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. science. theosophic. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. Another such figure. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. originally a scientist. and associated with the vast . at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. stretching right into the nineteenth century. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. Freemasonry. One sees this also. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. invented an industrial process. not a visionary. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. which. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. truly a Renaissance man. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). and literature in a spiritually centered universe. unlike these other more individualistic movements. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). of course. in other words. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. the arts. the social and political realm. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. was John Heydon. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. but published only in German). chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. author of such works as Theomagia. not so very long ago. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. For all of the Rosicrucian.
Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. and although . there seems little doubt that Rosicrucianism itself— whose apocalyptic hopes for an immediate reform of humanity were dashed by the reality of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany—in turn fed into the Masonic stream. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. 1617). primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. and the sciences. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. Of course. not surprisingly. Plato and the Bible. Jewish. Robert Fludd went to St. of course. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. Masonry. having received a knighthood for his military service. Martianus Capella and. his father. the arts. Such publication was. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. Fludd. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. 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. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. and during this time began work on his major treatises. to a speculative. in 1616 and 1617. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician.” published in Leiden. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. of course. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. John’s College in Oxford. on which he explicitly drew. 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. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. semireligious occult fraternity. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. Indeed. but the Freemasons endured the longest. and Rosicrucianism. Like Paracelsus himself. Indeed. the Kabbalah. Sir Thomas Fludd.
who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. and assiduous bibliophile.” Elias Ashmole. Himself an alchemist. Arthur Dee. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. By the early 1630s. astrologer. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. Dee’s son. who had actually gone in search of the Rosicrucians (to the dismay of Mersenne) and Mersenne’s massive attacks on Hermeticism and Kabbalism as well as Rosicrucianism certainly influenced the emergence of what has come to be known as Cartesian rationalism. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. But in any event. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. John Dee. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. Ashmole. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. and back to England. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. Dr. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. born to an aristocratic family. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century.60 Then again. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. and who collected much on and by John Dee—so that one might well say that the esoteric movement here went from England to the Continent. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply.”61 But for our purposes. 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. . almost exclusively for esoteric causes. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. Marin Mersenne.
using a symbolic metalanguage. when Backhouse thought he was dying. The true name is hidden. were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. or as Kabbalistic. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. and only philosophers of the English Revolution. .” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). of course. after recording this revelation. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. John Dury (1596–1680). . Samuel. . meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. but they are in any case gnostic. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. . It is significant that Ashmole. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. of course. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . the real . never referred to it again. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism.62 Backhouse’s father. and John Comenius (1592–1690). These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. one could ignore it.”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. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. All of this. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. and must remain so. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. was not simply an antiquarian. except to his own spiritual son. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son.64 These three men.
and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. Freemasonry. Chymical. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . like the symbolism of alchemy. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. . Also important here is the third point. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. 4. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. Such a language. Arts and Sciences. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). . A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. The aim of a magical language is. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. and Mechanical. 3. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. 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 most important for us is the final point. Philosophicall. Early in the eighteenth century.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. according to the Constitutions. . For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. . needless to say. . 2. However.” certainly a pansophic goal.
developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. The work has already been commenced in London. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. while publishing numerous books. . Ramsay. 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. great. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). a theosophic circle in London. and indeed.68 Within Masonry itself. On the other hand. especially in England. for instance. . On the one hand. In it. deism. fellow craftsman. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. and master mason. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. suppress. solid. And during this time. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. excepting only theology and politics. In this oration. became prominent in French Masonry. . he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. fraternal Freemasonry. with its general tendency to reject. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). nonsectarian basis. Italy. After her death. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. it is not surprising that this project. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. luminous. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. had an exoteric. England. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. especially in France. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. announced in Ramsay’s oration. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. Masonic values of rationalism. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. including. or ignore esotericism. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry.
. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. six for the clergy. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. 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. based as it is on the craft of building. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. which is as follows: one word for a divine.” In other words. I answer it was God in six Terminations. Indeed. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism.8). according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. even to this day. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. God has sealed the six directions of space. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. Freemasonry.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. In the Graham manuscript of 1726.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. Rosicrucian. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. to wit I am. theosophic.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. and six for the fellow craft. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry.”70 What are these words divided evenly between the clergy and Freemasons? There is some evidence of Kabbalistic influence in Freemasonry of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries—for instance. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. of human and divine architecture both. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. by which. In other words. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. specifically. As we have already seen. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. that is.
For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. What is more. the theme of our next section. and the divine. Above all. Finally. of course. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. Kabbalah. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. its secret “silable. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. . pansophy. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. And this role is played out through reading and writing. including alchemy. including humanity). in Western esotericism. Rosicrucianism.” or signature. Here. nature. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. Masonry. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. and Christian theosophy. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. not consume it. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. not just as the means of communication among people. magic. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. Here. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. For according to Western esotericism generally. but as the actual medium linking humanity. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification.
. 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.
from .Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .
Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. . Theosophia Revelata.). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
Theosophia Revelata.). . oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme.
oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. .).Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. Theosophia Revelata.
C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . . Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. O p u s M a g o . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph.
Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye. . (Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o .Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum.
O p u s M a g o .Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).
” 1988. . otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. “The Music of Dawn.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. and the evocative. 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.
” 1976.Figure 10 Cecil Collins. “Paradise. .
Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. Now I want Spirits to enforce. And pardoned the deceiver. the magician Prospero. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. has brought the play’s action to an end. The main character. And what strength I have’s my own. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Which is most faint. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. Which was to please. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. The Tempest.3 Modern Implications P R O S P E R O ’ S WA N D : M O D E R N E S O T E R I C L I T E R AT U R E In the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. or else my project fails. Or sent to Naples.
for instance. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. for most of us. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. in effect gives his wand to his audience. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. to the audience. and words—often Hebrew. via the main character. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. As you from crimes would pardoned be. Here Prospero. letters. Warlick. as audience. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. to invoke the forces of creation itself. to sing or to say into being. and freed him. is to touch the nature of being itself. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. are the magicians. also a magician. traditionally. is a prosaic matter. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. Suddenly.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. where the poet-singer is. winged creature in an ornate room. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. we realize that we. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. Rosicrucianism. today. To be a vehicle for the right words. and Freemasonry. Let your indulgence set me free. Initially. there are numbers. having relinquished his magical power. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. That is. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. for example. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. but there is no transference of magical power. pansophy. shows a tall. E. In all of these esoteric traditions. by virtue of his skill with words. it is often inverted and does not . standing above a reclining woman. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. Conventionally. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. often little more than the accumulation of data. To incant is to enchant. In this most magical of plays. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. Reading. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. Here.
as can in fact be said of the works of. of even greater value is a vertical. It is certainly worth doing. But his learning is of a particular kind.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. (1886–1961). Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. the poet H. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. S. horizontal survey is of value. and so I will not discuss them further here. for instance. more . more or less. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. as with Yeats or H. as with Emerson or Rilke. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. his mother Jewish. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. with sections on each of the major currents. turning then to H. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. I will leave such a project for another time. not only in the case of Ernst. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. After a good education. While a broad. for instance. D. during which time his family sold their estate. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. secular or not. sometimes more implicitly. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. Naturally. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. D.. V. to the magical fiction of C. into the world of French intelligentsia. third.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. and entry. V. Here. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. sometimes explicitly. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. Milosz traveled widely. Canticle of Knowledge: O. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. However. D. and perhaps for someone else to do. split further into sections on poetry and prose. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989).
Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. in 1914. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. of heaven. and both wrote in dry. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. Swedenborg was. in fact. who as we will recall in his latter years tried to reunite the bythen separated fields of the humanities and the sciences with his works on plants and color.” However. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. Then. in vision. and Western esotericism in general. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). and the dwelling places of spirits. . S. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. create a kind of lineage of such figures. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. William Blake (1757–1827). come to fruition in literary form. Goethe. theosophy. Eliot. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. he experienced a spiritual illumination. One can. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. hell. Milosz’s poetry. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). These Swedenborg saw. as he saw it. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. which are what concern us here. and became. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. and perhaps remains. and. for that matter. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought.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. Among these figures. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. also a tactile visionary. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. Kabbalah. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. Not so Milosz. a Don Juanesque figure. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg.
” or “Canticle of Knowledge. through a new metaphysics. At this juncture.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. seems called upon.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. The canticle continues: “A ceux.” which. / Les autres. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. qui.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. de science et d’amour. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. seems bound. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. ayant demandé. the passionate pursuit of the Real. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. as the organizer of archetypes.]”7 . from the cosmos. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. and especially the figures we are discussing here.”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. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape.” telling us that “poetry. [For those who. have received and already know. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. thieves of joy and pain. knowledge and love. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. / Others. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. and like Blake. But the poet. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. n’entendront rien à ces choses.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). to awakening it in his reader. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. and also prehistory and archaic history. on 14 December 1914. having asked. to join up with ancient teachings. on reçu et savent déjà. that he anticipated a new poetry. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. will understand nothing of these things. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 91 Here it may be useful to remark on the kind of new science we see emerging in these writers. and especially in Milosz. the observer looks outward. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. but indeed. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. astronomy. crown of human knowledge. and in particular. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. Cartographers of consciousness. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin.
mais bien les père des objects sensibles. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. this “situated place. 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.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. But characteristically. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. In fact.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. ni les fils. lumière. ténèbres. from Pythagoras to Plato. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . addressed to the latter. eau. to the initiate. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. darkness. and already know.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. terre. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. earth. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. sun. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. light. water.” 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]. but truly fathers of sensible objects. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked.]”9 In other words. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. as well as the names of metals. soleil.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. those who are not affirmers. 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.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. “meditation on the origin of language. he continues. blood. have received. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil.” We think that the sensible world is situated. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. etc.”8 This gnostic canticle is.” writing that to understand the origin of language. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics.” Indeed. but it is not so. but living. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. / For these names are neither brothers. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. not like “Patmos. nor sons. salt. sang. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. of course. but negators. sel. “their substance is nameless.
le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. . which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. he implicates us in the poem. for as he told us before. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. Milosz tells us again.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu.” Simply that. 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. he tells us. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. and only describes what he has seen. At such points. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . And so it is here. . Here. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances.]”13 As we might recall. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests.” There is the earthly gold. when Milosz addresses us directly. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. 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. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word).]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. of love and of wrath. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. and the gold of celestial memory. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. . of the primal . he calls us to the celestial gold. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. a revelation. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. that is. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. mute as lead. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. is the “key to the world of light. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. muet comme le plomb.” “De la magie des mots que j’assemble ici / L’or du mond sensible tire sa secrète valeur [From the magic of the words I gather here / The sensible world’s gold draws its secret value. of blessing and of desolation.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. Adam. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. Milosz exultantly writes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence.” This distinction between truth and lie. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. or in Milosz’s words. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. . But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun.
in theosophic tradition.]”16 See. In the concluding lines of the canticle. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. hideux.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. of light and darkness.” We might recall that the mirror. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer.” selfknowing. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. but “great trials of negation. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. for that matter. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance.” an “eternity of horror.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. Milosz writes. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg.” and “marrow of iniquity. Luciferic brain]. / being in place itself. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. where he saw “the source of lights and forms.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place.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. this immense. chaste archetypes.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. we find a spiritual corporeality. Thus. rather. hideous. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. delirious. and this is the “solar egg.”15 Here we find.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. “the Father of Ancients.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. of those who speak pure language. le seul situé.” those “lands of nocturnal din.” “immense. Milosz muses on his early poetry. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. différent.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. Milosz tells us.” “the world of profound. not light and serenity of recognition. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. [I am always in the same place. and looked behind him. wise. innocent. and a kind of corporeality of language. the only one situated. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. and is the province of those who speak pure language. in the visionary writings of Böhme.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. / played with me as a father with his child. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence.]” Then one day. different. / étant dans le lieu même.
Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. “Master. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. Thus the canticle. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. between the lightworld and the darkworld. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. but refers to an inner alchemy. trois vois—le signe. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. innocents! [The parents sleep there. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell.]” . le signe! [seven times for the past. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. at its end. let us make the sign. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. and for our three days to come. I touch your brow. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. This poem. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. tendres métaux époux. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. Beatrix.” replies Beatrix. [Dear child.” is unquestionably alchemical. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. je te touche le front. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. and his Hymns to the Night. and since we have now known one another seven years.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. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. tender metal partners in marriage. Qu’ils sont beaux.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. again three times. 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. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. et pour nos trois jours à venir. and clothed with the sun. is especially of interest to us here. you speak the truth. by the grace of inner vision. to “tender metal partners in marriage.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. [1775–1802]). This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way.
]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night.]”21 It is. Beatrix. is reborn!” Thus once again. charity. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. He opens his eyes and is reborn. but the adept replies. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. of course. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. partaking rather of a heightened. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The adept watches. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. “I see only one. white and pale blue. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. and “Lumière de l’or. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. woman. And in the conclusion of the poem. and black. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. and to its incantory language. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth.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.” sinks to the depths. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. 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.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. The woman in the poem. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. I tell you. charitée. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. [It is life liberated. [Light of gold. “I believe it is.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. tu te délivres.” while the “oil of blind corruption. you liberate yourself. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. The Master forgives me. The alchemical . [My chains of constellations are broken. yellow. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. any more than are those of the adept. he comes back to life. leaden and lachrymal. Beatrice.
” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana.” and that “In the author’s mind. rests in a horizontal position. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. . sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). The incantory. by a metallic red-hot egg. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader.” a “faithful and pious narrative. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. in what it reveals.: initiate]. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. after all. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. perfectly awake.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. oneself. 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. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. At the same instant. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. is also to participate in it. one senses vast expanses around one. by Milosz. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. in other words. 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. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. a light appears. the large cloud vanishes. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references.” The line is the fourth verse. or rather. as unemotional as nature. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. then? Undoubtedly.
meaning the archetypal realm. 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. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. its brutal mass wars. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. and in this there is a kind of reversal. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. moving up a little. becomes rounder. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. he is among the most erudite of poets. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. 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. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. that. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. Milosz . and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. yet his erudition. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. scientifically. Without question. one may even say. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. And authentic literature. because it springs from this archetypal reality. It is perhaps useful. on which it alights like a crown. Such experience is of the truly situated. its secular hedonism and materialism. He insists that in order to understand.23 There is still more. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. though including many great poets. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. thereafter. stands still. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. referring to the reader as “my son.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. we must bow down. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. just as he ignores and despises that world.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. at this point.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism.
Plato.” Milosz continued. that of the word and the book: un seul mot nouveau le même / cœur qu’au temps des pères bat dans le bois la / pierre et l’eau rien de tou cela qui revient / n’est nouveau toutes ces choses dormaient / dans les livres fermés les livres sous mes / mains se sont ouverts. the School of Alexandria. Swedenborg.” and . We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. Swedenborg. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity.”25 And he remarked elsewhere that he spent the best years of his life in solitude “getting drunk on the Holy Scriptures and nourishing myself on them. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew.” 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. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. Claude de Saint Martin. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. passing through the Pre-Socratics. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. Martinez de Pasqually. from Egypt up to today. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. alias René Descartes. the mystical eighteenth century. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. [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.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 99 wrote in a letter that he would like to lecture on a subject he knew thoroughly: “hermetic metaphysics and doctrines. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe.” 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. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme.” first with his teacher of Hebrew.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. sought in them peace of spirit. Eugène Ledrain.
Joseph de Maistre. . King of the unified world. and art. The legend of his assassination by three rebellious companions and of the discovery of his body by the nine Masters is only a figure for the death of Jacques de Mola. and Savoy. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. Germany. 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. if we may coin a word. Hiram. Eliot. R. S.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word.” which are far more extensive than anything T. and the true poet. Here. my son. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. science. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. it is not books that we are waiting for. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. 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 . Milosz tells of his visionary experience. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. as early as 1919. in short. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. . that the work of the coming poet is to be a “crowning” of the New Testament as the latter was a crowning of the Old: “It is not a book. the universal regent of faith. the visionary poet.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. . inside the books of life and of knowledge. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. the books open themselves to him. wrote for his poetry. and books. 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.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. Milosz held. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. King of the Unified World. In his “Poem of the Arcana. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. Le Forestier. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. Under the heading “Hiram.” in fact. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters.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. for instance. words. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. in 1938.
” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. aspire to holy unification. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. who announced a coming millennium.”32 Here. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. like spirit and matter. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace.’ announce their impending appearance. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . alias René Descartes. Indeed. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. relatively not distant. He writes that “Today. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy.” Here.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. 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.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre.” 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.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. Religion and science. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. “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. as we have seen. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism.”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. he brings in the theme that. like all the continents and all the states of this world. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa.
of course. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. and scientific fusion. the sciences. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. sought the widest possible range.” And in his little esoteric group. For us. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. but explicitly Christian. for instance. with a white collar. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. the “science of the divine. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). de Lubicz. however. author of The Magus.”39 These dreams of universality. And there are numerous other such examples. as we have seen. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. In his work. The Master alone will wear a red cap. of political. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. being the Christ-figure. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). Our group will have no more than twelve members.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. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). I am the enemy of exteriorization. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. Milosz wrote. moral or social.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. . so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett.”38 Such a group. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. not to say grandiosity. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. and that he deliberately. and the arts via religion. among them its ritual dress. in his letter to James Chauvet. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. religious. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. the other members being his apostles. in his work as in his private life.
C. we . in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. the Tarot. but also for the universality of his aims. novels.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. and essays. 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. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. a relatively obscure figure. through his writing. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. the poet H. psychic insights or visions. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. D. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. magic. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. astrology. S. Here. not toward the present. However. and a new golden age. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. Indeed. D. little studied in academe. but toward the future. numerology. There are. Although we here will take our leave of them. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. and Kathleen Raine. Like Prospero in his final speech. D. That H. which outlines the intertwining of H. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. Rosicrucianism. D. D. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life.’s poetry. Charles Williams. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. D.’s life and interests. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. D. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. In these efforts.. H.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. and Milosz. of course. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. Lewis. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. today. Indeed. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life.
Margaret Fuller. like H. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson.’s early. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. Likewise. D. D. D. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. explicitly esoteric book.. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. D. But when we begin to look at H. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. for H.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. and on the other Margaret Fuller. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. overmind. Notes is a very unusual work. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. And when we turn from Dickinson to H.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. mind. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. very much resembles both of them in certain respects.’s life it is repeated a number of times. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. as many critics have observed.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. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. In Esoteric Origins. by recognizing that H. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. H. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter.. D.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. a cap of consciousness . astrology. For it seems clear from her poetry. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. D. In his introduction to H. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. D. however. D. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. was fascinated by numerology. save that in H. D. D. D. We should begin.”41 Although the major works by H. “The Thistle and the Serpent.
and third is the awakening into the overmind. contained in a defininte space. Whatever else we may make of it. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. perceive separately. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. D. yet make one picture. . had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. I visualise it just as well. Into that over-mind. we begin to suspect that this odd book of fragments is itself a kind of initiatic book of clues for those very coming artists of the overmind. D.’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. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. is a gnostic with a small g. one must. . continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. which is possible for all. second is the life of the intellect. indeed. a nonsectarian. D. D. It is like a closed sea-plant. affecting a little my eyes . those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. Without doubt. a musician. jelly-fish. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. H. a musician. almost like two lenses. 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. or anemone. As we read on through Notes. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. She does write about a “vision of the womb. D. H. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. transparent.” The minds of the lovers unite. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. .” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child.’s work has feminist implications. like water. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. engage in a union of love and intellect. She places gnosis. She writes that to be a true artist. That overmind seems a cap. my forehead. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. D. or awakening into the overmind. syncretic . now. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. The two work separately. as primary to the true artist. fluid yet with definite body. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body.42 H. except through the intellect. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. H.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. .”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself.”43 H.
”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. pitiful reticence.” H.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. . spell. In Notes on Thought and Vision. prayer” for healing. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. In this respect. the overmind being above it.” H. D. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. E. She writes “dare. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. / here is the alchemist’s key. seek. H. of the “alchemist’s secret. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. reversion of old values. unlocked. / companions / of the flame. / born of one mother. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. Here. dare more.” “arrogance. seek further. for instance. over-confidence. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness.” we “nameless initiates. D.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. D. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. madness. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. All-father.” And the section ends with “illusion.” “Tribute to the Angels. D. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. as these entities are “healers. and H. is a false path.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall.47 In M. / it unlocks secret doors.” mind “floundered. .” and “The Flowering of the Rod. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension.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. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. she holds. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. this. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy.”48 All of this suggests that there is .” and of “the most profound philosophy”. was lost in sea-depth. devour. helpers / of the One. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence.” In the next section. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson.”45 “Amen. Amen.” She writes. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. / oneness lost. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. boasting. too. D.” here. D.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances.
In a well-known passage.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. . one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation.’s invocation of Hermes. illuminate what came after.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. / inventive. conditioned to hatch butterflies . this passage suggests the complexity. too much. then writes: We have had too much consecration. artful and curious. D. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. devoid of life. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. . The next work in H. symbols of Psyche reborn. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. this has been proved heretical. this. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. D. / in the light of what went before.” whose “province is thought. H. D. cryptograms. continues. I feel the meaning that words hide. but also those who come after her. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. too little affirmation. D.” through painting or writing. she is calling herself to a sacred task.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past.”49 Thus.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. too little: I know. but this. The words themselves may resemble boxes. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. H. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies.” . “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. / re-vivify the eternal verity. / lead us back to the one-truth.” “candle and script and bell. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. “patron of alchemists. little boxes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. D.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. H.”50 Here H. they are anagrams. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters.” “invoke the true-magic. D.
We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. saw. in an old garden-square. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. is attempting in her poetry here. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. D. the shattered glass of the past. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. D. in the high-altar of a ruined building. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. D. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. H. recreated by the poet.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. I testify. the poet must “melt down and integrate. reinvoked in a new form. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . it was an ordinary tree. John. and so too by implication can we be.” but re-awakened. H.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. H. we saw the tree flowering. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. like a ghost. D. how is it you come so near. we entered a house through a wall. was writing these poems. so too can the poet be.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there).’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. indivisible Spirit. the conditions under which. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. after all.” One must “reinvoke.52 These lines reveal many layers.
the next section is very important. music could do nothing with it. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . themselves conveyed to the reader through H. H.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation.’s vision.’s poetry in general. / . one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. with Saint Michael. . that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. and Trilogy in particular. writes that This is no rune nor riddle.” This experience “was vision. alluded to. D. D. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. / it was a sign. it is happening everywhere. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. conveyed through the poetry. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. And this experience is gnosis.’s poetry. But there is another recurrent theme in Trilogy that we also cannot ignore and that is indivisible from this mysterious and profound experience of the divine: the figure of Sophia.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood.’s “Tribute to the Angels. symbol of Hermes. H. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. In this context. the divine feminine.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. In H. Hence H. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. nothing whatever.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). D. the flowering of the wood. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. This experience. D. D. D. / it was the Holy Ghost—. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. and even more overtly. is a gnosis of the word. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. In it. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. / the darkness of ignorance. .
requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. was a baptized Moravian.” 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. / who did not forego our heritage” .” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. She who has been seen “the world over. And She is “Holy Wisdom. and the thief.” “she carried a book. the writer. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. who is also redeemed. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. D. allied to Mercury also.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes.. for H. D.” H. the thief. Sophianic spirituality was in H. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. Rather. right into the final poem. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. brought into paradise with Christ.’s own heritage. in the context of the three poems together. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift.” And She is also “Psyche. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. the butterfly. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. / out of the cocoon. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. D.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian.” This refrain. and that. D. Hermes is the patron of the artist. to her astonishment.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. whether it is con- . D. obviously.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. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. 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. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. as we will see in more detail shortly. and H. the scribe. D.” “Santa Sophia.’s Trilogy. under her “drift of veils. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. D.” she of the Bona dea. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. D.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. the Bible. They are not.
’s own notes. 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. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. B. What is more. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. To understand this mysticism more fully. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism.” all are interwoven here. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. D. 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. of mysticism. D. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. D. Eliot and W. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. as in the original. The Gift. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 111 venient for the reader’s ideology or not.” with the experience of Christ. In her poetry. however. that until 1998. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. Eve and Mary. D. we must turn to The Gift. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. D. Likewise. Hermes and Christ. It is not surprising. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. H. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. S. I suppose. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. H. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. H. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. complete with H.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. H. fear. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book.
in the middle of the eighteenth century. D. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. & P. 1753). D.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. In other words. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. We can see the extent and depth of H. cited by H. itself. H. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. 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. D. Robinson. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. Knapton. H. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. especially those now housed at Yale University. Mysticism. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. D. . “Old Father Weiss. 1755). 1909). George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. in her notes. . was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. Rimius’s works. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. In toto. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. D. was herself a baptized Moravian.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . and he was born in Bethlehem. H. in . Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel.”58 About such accusations. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. Rimius. 1753). Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. H. it was in fact in her blood.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. shaping the way that she intended it to be read.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. though I must confess. But her interest in the Moravians took on a new intensity when she realized more about the esotericism of the original Moravians and of the charismatic Count Zinzendorf. D. Pennsylvania. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. make clear this distinction. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. Pennsylvania. D. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. her grandmother’s father. 1794).” or Jedediah Weiss. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. Linde. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. had done her research.” of the “Arcana. D.
whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. it does exist. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. D.” She goes on: . the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. D. but also of the older poet H. referring to Father. in short. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. “you just stumble on it. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. The Moravian Church. . to initiate the reader.” H.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity..M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. We were a small community. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . and its doctrines as representing a pure. The novel. and Son. . “There is no royal road into this kingdom. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. into The Gift.. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. D. 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.”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. writes. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. D. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. 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. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. Hilda. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. conventionally the church. D. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. there was no hint of this exoticism. Mother. respected and highly respectable.
. Williams called a primula. . that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. Rather. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. but there are no bees in it now. . cut on a wall at Karnak. Hilda’s grandmother. But there is more. the word stops. considerably more of this theme to unpack. it is what the novel does for H. as some scholars seem to think. these are the keys. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. the story she tells is of a hidden gnostic tradition stretching back to at least the time of the Knights Templar in the medieval period. That is how it is. but Hilda (and along with her. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. A word opens a door. But really “live” it. I mean. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). . The word is like a bee-hive. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. this is the game I play. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. .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. Egyptian . can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. and even here in her narrative.” The first is when Mamalie. These spiritual mysteries are not. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. “Christian had left the Secret with me. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. Island of Wonders. that is why it is so quiet. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost.” she told Hilda. . Hilda surmises. The other bees have gone. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. In chapter 5 of The Gift. Hilda is wondering if the word alone can serve as a means of initiation so that the spiritual mysteries of her heritage can be continued. I mean.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. in some aspects of the story. indeed. Then am I for a moment . Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . D. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. later learning it means Island of Wounds). I was afraid the Secret would be lost. “The Secret. men play a greater role than women. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. it is like that little flower that Mrs. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. A word opens a door .
she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. . and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. done in their picture-writing. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. in particular the Shawnee. of snow swirling. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. kept in a birch-bark case. of wind. According to Mamalie. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. indeed. it was the laughter of the water. said Mamalie. altogether. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. had a name for. it is not a confabulation of H. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. the answer given by the Spirits. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too.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. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. D. . “like scales running up and down.” not just Minne-ha-ha. She and her . was to decide the future of the whole country .” but that “wasn’t really destroyed.’s.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices.” “the laughter of leaves. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. Hebrew. bore the names of Cammerhof. this laughter that ran over us. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. but this was untrue. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. is not Europe but North America.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. Greek.62 Like the Templars. though. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. though. This rapport is historically verifiable. laughing all the time.” This scroll. so that “It was laughing. Pyrlaeus. Mamalie continues.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters.63 In The Gift. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. but all of them.
and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. 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.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. in an even more attenuated form. In her notes. D.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French.”69 The two worlds have become one. H. decoded it and she played it. Mamalie. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. who was to die at twenty-five.” 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. . 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. or Wounded Island. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. those hiding in the attic burned alive. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. And yet in the very final passages. so much so that she never played music again. called “New Gnadenhütten.” as “Aryan. domination. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. even refers to the American David Williamson. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. said in her fragmented narrative. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. Christian Seidel. and then. At the novel’s conclusion. raining down terror from the skies. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. The Gift. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. having “burnt it up. And in a subsequent event.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. In 1755. Wunden Eiland.” but instead what we see is a tragic history.
not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. In her profoundly ambitious works. 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. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. H. and out of which all great work is generated.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word.V. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. D.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. Likewise. But above all. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. singing of the Wounds. As we have seen. the more deeply one looks into her works. not merely as decorations. H. but as integral to her work. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. for instance. In her poetry and fiction. H. In this context. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. D. D. Her interest in spiritualism. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. as well as of timelessness and time.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. Among major twentiethcentury authors.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. D. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. D. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea.’s English present. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. Indeed.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. D. .” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. H. past and present. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. both poetic and fictional. present. and future continually intermingle. one of the original Moravian initiates. there. H.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. her work suggests that past. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present.
The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. through time—specifically. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. may be Angel or Devil. Elizabeth recalls him to her. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. early seventeenth-century England. as Adam. D. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. as history tells us. Mystery and a portent. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. and its implications. D. The Lucifer-Lilith. although: I hardly knew my Lord. H. meeting and parting. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. has the same root derivation as Seraph. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. H. in his pre-Eve manifestation. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. parted in the dark. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. D. Lilith. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. but it was only in her later work that we see it. but at the same time. through her fiction and through her poetry. true we had met in sudden frenzy.71 . yes. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. outlined in entirety. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. to be sure. the Light-bringer. We cannot conclude without reference to H. whom we invoke as Lucifer. Vale Ave. late Rome.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. dynastic Egypt. and contemporary London. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. legendary Provence. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. After his death. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism.
” the mysteries of the holy well. as in poetry. taken in toto. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. 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. . / infinity portrayed in simple things.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. here again “the words laugh. The dead are living still.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. I would like to explore not the art of magic. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. D.” the holy presences withdraw. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. Here.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. “the Mystery. But my . and the Scroll. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements.” 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.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. 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. . it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. the Writing. the “springs gone under the hill. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams. Of course. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . D.’s lifetime of work. Her poetry and her prose.” and again through it “I had the answer. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. 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.
invokes the Oyéresu. and Charles Williams). Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. here.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. S. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. R. it remains distinct from the other two.” But later in the same essay. or pretends to produce. C.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. domination of things and wills. and so forth. “That is why they will work only through a man. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). Viritrilbia. as one might imagine. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose.” “Their naked power. Tolkien. J. Let us take an example.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. they will unmake all Middle Earth. J. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. its desire is power in this world. the “true powers of Heaven. His main character. Lewis. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. 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. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. fay or mortal. “one who by his own will once opened it.” which might best be translated as “magic. S. or Venus. R. R. saying “I have become a bridge. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. or Mercury. Magic produces. things are not nearly so clear cut. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. it is not an art but a technique. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. seems reasonable enough in theory. “The Descent of the Gods.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. John Ransom. Here. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic.” “Sir.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. an alteration in the Primary World.” says Ransom. R. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act.” replies Ransom. C. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. yes. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. when we turn to actual works.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. and the descrip- .
They experience “needle-pointed desires. . Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. In this chapter. .” Merlin and Ransom tremble. deafened. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. sticky gums . sweet-scented and full of desire. 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 . A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles.”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. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. . brisk merriments. They thought it would burn their bones. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. .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. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. . and there we see a “rod of coloured light. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. unmitigated. scorched. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. until his outraged senses forsook him. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops.”80 It is not really possible. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. sharp. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. . In the beginning of the chapter.” the narrator tells us. They could not bear that it should continue. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. ready to kill. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. in which none other than the ancient . 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. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . bright and ruthless. ready to die. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. . They were blinded. They could not bear that it should end. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. were it possible. here. . calling down the powers. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. and the Blue Room. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen.” “He would have known sensuously. outspeeding light: it was Charity .” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language.
“Obviously it was high time she went in. of course. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. 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. one with ordinary people. she sees that clothes are piled inside. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. The invocation takes place. In so doing. though one could easily imagine it so. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates.”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. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. Therefore . 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. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. and the Director (Dr.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. and one with Merlin and Ransom). Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. in a “secondary world” of fiction. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. Anne’s. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams.” the seventeenth chapter. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. In other words. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. About Williams’s novels.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. and by its end.
for in the act of reading. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. they unveil the power of archetypes and. [Emphasis added. almost cathartic effect. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. It was not written for its entertainment value. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. . Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. I have put a great deal into it. . one is also encountering new realms of existence.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. and how therefore the reader is in . Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. and her observations are revealing. I am afraid. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. Who and what is Lilith. I wrote it. in fact. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. in general. for instance. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. 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. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. For that. By doing so. to find out what it was about. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. they reveal forms of necromancy.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. 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. On the other hand. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. not find it very entertaining. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. [Emphasis added. In effect they are initiations. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. and decidedly corrupt ones. 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.
84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. magicians call it magic. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. In some respects. and imagined myself speaking to him. a shabby. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. appears clearly in her novels. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. the side She turns away from earth. for it is effectual.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. like all of her . after all. It does not matter to me what it is called. but Fortune was. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. 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. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. putting my cards on the table. who is Moloch. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. not surprisingly. 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. I made the astral projection by the usual method. badly lit and ill-tended room. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. untidy. which is the dark side of the Moon. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. She gave rise to the character Lilith. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. In the novel’s seventh chapter. that is to say. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. The magic worked. Fortune’s novel. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. and I seemed to be in a strange room. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair.
Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. a young woman named Ursula . at the end of the story. . and many others. 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. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. like Taverner. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. Thus Rhodes.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. but I shared in their life.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. one will recall. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. Not only were they alive. was consummately the logician. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. . with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). Marius. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. Rhodes.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. but perhaps most interestingly. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. Holmes. After his entry into the Unseen.”85 And so the book concludes. to “enter the Unseen. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. a fellow named Fouldes. 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. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. The Secrets of Dr. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. for I was one with them . Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. I was no longer alone. “in all things there was a profound difference. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. Taverner. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull.” 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. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. As a character. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. Rhodes. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. I had passed over into the Unseen. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. for. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage.
These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. they are without morality.’ Brangwyn concluded. a bear of a man. . in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. but then Murchison. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. banked and double-banked. and in another moment the room was empty . they were getting it in the neck. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. Yet paradoxically. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. He was experienced in dealing with such things. cold and merciless. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction.’ replied Murchison.’ said Brangwyn. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. . . but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. ‘Well. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. and her half-brother. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. like Astley in The Winged Bull. Frost and Wither are without mercy. ‘so that’s that.’ ‘Yes. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. but also logically. . In That Hideous Strength. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). among them men named Frost and Wither. . She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. Of the two books.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. The girl he could do nothing for. and. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . pure selfishness. there are also depraved black magicians. an experienced magician. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. suddenly. breaking the embarrassing silence. ‘That is very much that. The strange. Then. such characters are necessary not only dramatically.
89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. 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. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. 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.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. powers both good and evil. 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. and thanks to that. and Fortune. helped by appropriate texts. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. Lewis. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. Taverner.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. There is. Whether or not a disciple has a master. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). either alone. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. . at the end of The Secrets of Dr. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course.90 . in this kind of fiction. or with the help of an initatory. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. But Charles Williams and even C. In all of the fiction we are considering here. experience of magic. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. S. Williams. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. . whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it.
which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. in literary form. Williams. active imagination is essential. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life.” and thus to written works like novels. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. Indeed. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. thoroughly real. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works.” What conclusions can we draw.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. 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. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. . Such a tension corresponds. then.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. 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.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. Second. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. if we may so put it. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. since in the fiction we have been discussing. In fact.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. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. Finally.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. 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. Third.
Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. which is why I have chosen to study them together. and his writings reveal in detail his .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. an important and genuinely original British painter. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. transcendent and perhaps. But it is in the work of Lewis that we find an initiation into magical working that rises to the multivalent level of full artistic creation. It is in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength that the reader can perhaps most powerfully encounter the transmuting power of artistic beauty expressing ritual magic that. angelic realm. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989.. higher aspects of nature and humanity. It was not until 1994 that Brian Keeble brought out an edited book of Collins’s writings under the title The Vision of the Fool. held in London’s Tate Gallery. and that like his contemporary poet. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. E. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. Theosophic illustrations in particular. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. indirectly or directly. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. As we have already seen. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. in the sense of Rilke. Still. Collins was a gifted aphorist. there remain fundamental differences. but with the publication of this book. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). but also in Böhmean theosophy. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. Thus. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works.
By reading Collins’s aphorisms. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. denies all who have inward fruit. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. [14 January. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. of all that which desires to give. In “Hymn of Life. I long for my kingdom. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader.” 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. But you exist.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. the contemplative. the human being. Our time denies. 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. we are all exiles. Denies the artist.” Ordinary life in the natural world. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. for Collins. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. for he must ‘leap the gaps.’ must make intellectual connections individually. But here I wander. A winter of the spirit is over all society. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. A frustration of all that which is growing. and I know nothing. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. I long for my race.95 In 1965. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. is imbued always with spiritual significance. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. I remember you. 1945. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. to come to fruition.” or again. of his solitary walks in the countryside. I know of your existence. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . and my life with you. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. Totnes. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art.
” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. For like answers to like and creates actualization . in Collins’s view. It can only be known by inner nuance. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. . . 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[. awaken this inner rapport in us. rapport. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 131 who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. .97 Works of art. but only by rapport with those worlds. and the making of money.] art is therefore an instrument of man’s inner nature and it enables him to manifest in the phenomena of matter the nuance and living quality of his inner life so that his environment is no longer neutral or alien: a rapport is established. the meaning. 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. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. This is the same thing actually. by measurement or analysis.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. The value of the artist is not to decorate. by description. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness.
the opening of man’s inner nature. widened. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying.” 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. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. spiritu- . living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. religious. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. we have no canonic culture of our own. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. . the answer comes back to us from within them.132 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E As our consciousness becomes transformed we become more sensitive to a wider range of nuance and vibration[. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. in Collins’s view. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. and that is the eye of the heart. But there is something else that has to be opened. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. the unveiling of the atom. ‘Everything that lives is holy. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. and transmuted. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. we have communion with it[. rocks.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. in a “time of the apocalypse. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. his inner world. in Collins’s view.’ In other words. and what is more. In the past. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. the elements. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . canonic language. We are all apt to fall asleep.98 The work of art. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era.” In his final remarks. We live. of mere desires. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. he writes. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. it becomes qualitative. .99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. trees. canonical religions and ritual. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil.
Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. Here. as in many of his visionary paintings. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. and vibrant color. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. in “The Invocation. and the other with the light. not afraid to wound the heart. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. to the left the orb of the sun. around them a halo of golden-yellow light.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. Often.” 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. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. like “Angels” (1948). revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). by patterns on the limbs and torso. landscape. such as “The Invocation” (1944). hieratic quality. To gaze at this painting is to . “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. make it bleed. a union of figure. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. dreamlike. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. but that is uplifting and paradisal. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. the figures’ eyes are opened. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. Many of these images have a strange. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. an active support. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. too. 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. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. the one with the sword. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. landscape is transformed as well. In many of his later paintings. 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. her head bent back and contemplative.
Indeed. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. but also essays. Lost paradise and . even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. like an electrical transformer. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. he offers through his paintings. his drawings. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. not least because his work includes not only images. chair. Here. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. a world between us and it. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. aphorisms. In another book. that like Milosz. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). as in the works of Milosz and H. In all of these works. in Collins’s view. so that God becomes a table. but central.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. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. . H. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. he is like very few other painters. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. by which we make contact with reality through images . D.. But Collins offers these through visual images. and poems that illuminate his paintings. Divine Reality. D. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit.. And it is also clear. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. we then have ‘sacred space. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. Collins wrote in this book. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. Meditations. and indeed. In this respect. or altar. Poems.’ sacred images. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. .
and the via negativa. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. these are the themes of these great artists. For in our overview of Western esotericism. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. science. as Dionysius himself points out. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. as a means of transmitting knowledge. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. First. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. It is. although they may contain an element of play. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. for instance. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. the way of images and forms and transformations.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. Strictly speaking. or mere entertainment. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. and the arts in written form. to the conjunction of spirituality. and awakening gnosis. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. what we find is in fact the via negativa. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. of course. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. Thus our third point: that . And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. or way of affirmation. but rather. or way of negation.
there is only the division between self and other. history. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. Here is the essential division between a modern. hidden. or Symbols. and there is sheer transcendence. Ideas. But in Western esoteric traditions. between humanity and the cosmos. ‘third element. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos.’ quantifiable knowledge. plant extracts. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. works only by reference to this third element. Rather. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object.’ the divine. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. And Western esoteric literature. on the other hand. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. sociology. geology. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. D. Western esoteric traditions.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. and so on. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. and the divine. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. chemistry. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. the cosmos. psychology. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. In a modern worldview. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. sometimes called by Böhme the .’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. the divine. In modern education. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. between the human and natural realms. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious.
Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. theosophy. an artist. cosmology. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. and literary expression. In all of these traditions. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. in order to create. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. a divine mathematics. The aim of the esoteric . first. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. or Fullness. Rosicrucianism. biology. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. Adam. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. but nothing.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. meaning by that not absence. a theologian. or any of the other major esoteric currents. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. a mythologist. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. and his fall from paradise. Thus the artist. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. and a chemist. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. by definition a ‘seer. we find a divine art and a divine science. the absolute unity of subject and object. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. is in fact prophetic. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. and by others the Nothing. In brief. The artist. for all three of these poets. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. in this worldview. often seen as androgynous. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. For the purpose of such literature is. This archetypal realm. alchemy.
and indeed as Yeats pointed out. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. magical. or a pansoph. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. even from a single letter. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. author of The Magus. almost always denoting divinity. contains some secret of wisdom. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. for instance. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. Rosicrucian.’”102 Likewise. an alchemist. and notarikon. 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. 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. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. and Masonic illustrations. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. temurah. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. where it arguably sparked the entire . but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825).138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. whether a Kabbalist. a theosopher. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. the language of creation itself. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. . In this perspective. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. Hence. which is to say. . We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. pansophic. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. theosophic.
Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. and Masonry. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. consequently. certainly it may be the Christian . when surveying the various esoteric currents. influenced much of modern Russian literature. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. it may be the “Book of Nature. theosophy. and especially of written language and of the book. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence.104 Obviously. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language.” or the “Book of Life”. Social Realism. following the various currents through Kabbalism. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. magic. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. a synthetic magical language of unprecedented epistemological power whose ultimate function was to serve as a means of conjuring new life in the future world. . 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. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. generally speaking . but certainly it is evident that this is an extension of a fundamental theme that runs through the whole of Western esotericism as it emerges in literary and artistic forms. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. Futurism.” or the “Book of Revelation. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. .” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity.’ and this is not necessarily so.
and in Judaism with Kabbalah. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. and indeed even farther back. Indeed. or in Buddhism. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. where the tradition . Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. Islam. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. Given our overview. interrupted. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. In Hinduism or Buddhism. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. but rather relied upon the written word. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. Hermes. However. gurus. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. Even in the case of alchemy. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred 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. or nonexistent. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. and so on back into antiquity. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. which indeed still finds them audiences today. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. or masters. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. and Geber. 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. for instance. and what is more. much less in Christianity specifically. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. 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. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings.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. even in this case it is not a matter of an initiatory master-disciple tradition in quite the same way as we see in Sufism. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages.
is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. One thinks here. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. when we look at the writing of Milosz. Such a view of the written word is. are not simply decorations. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. who. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. for in all cases. naturally. initiatory. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. but who rather offered the world only written works. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. may think of his poetry.’ a means of conveying ‘information. By contrast. Somehow. Christian theosophic literature. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. I believe. These illustrations. whatever one . Milosz. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. In modern parlance. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. That is to say.’ or ‘data’. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works.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. of Abraham Abulafia. but . the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. and in particular at its strange. particularly the works of Böhme. hieratic. in addressing this far-off “son. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. Indeed. to some future initiate in a far century. Let us take another example. V Milosz. which in turn generated a host of further written works—as if the written word itself were the primary means of individual and social transformation. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. dreamlike language and imagery. Such evocation is. have been adorned with copious illustrations. of course. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. often strikingly beautiful. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people.
it is more immediate and visceral. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. for instance. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. Taken together.106 To explain this phenomenon. What is more. Obviously. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms.142 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E reveal in condensed visual form essential aspects of the theosophic tradition. the dark-world of hell. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. theosophic. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. In this way. represented by a cross. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. tending. which refers to . 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. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. reaping. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject.” or Wisdom. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. For instance. in other words. Such an illustration. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. This metaphor—of sowing. In my view. through the turbulence of earthly life. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. does have an initiatic function—that is. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. and over time those seeds can take root. I use the term ahistorical continuity. Rather. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. grow. that is. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. the lightworld of paradise. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. pansophic. marked also “Sophia. and flower in the reader too. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. by gazing at such an image. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. so there is no need here to repeat myself.
Perhaps.’ 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. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. instead. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. you truly will know its worth. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. . it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. if you wish to use this little book aright. leave untouched the precious Names of God . it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. Here. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. it is also possible for an individual or group to rediscover or reawaken a particular archetypal paradigm latent within a tradition without any direct contact with such a lineage. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. for example. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. If. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. and are in earnest. Naturally. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. as I am suggesting. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. it can reëmerge in another. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. Thus. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. or a biology textbook. the daily news.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. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. Such a reader joins with the author. and who have a desire to begin. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. After all. . this function must be a change in consciousness. one might even say impossible.
and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. this objectifying delusion. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. the source from which they emerge. to become a channel for the divine current. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. or has knowledge-of. he tells us.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path.” “Be rightly warned. and second. 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. not by merely mouthing the words. and a prayer before sleep. a prayer for washing and dressing. one automatically is caught in delusion. . a prayer for noon.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. a prayer for one’s daily work. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. and become not its own possession. and for when one rises. judgemental consciousness. Then that thing. it walks in its own delusion. which it sees as divine.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing.”107 Or again. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. but the “instrument of God. a prayer for the evening. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. and experience the divine directly. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader.” or objectified realm. and so on for the entire week.” If on the one hand. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. in his “Warning to the Reader. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. but. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division.
the self in one sense continues to exist. the origin not only of language. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. where. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. we have the point of origin. For language is in its innermost nature divine. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. or perceiver and what is perceived. the yes and the no. but of the cosmos itself. between the divine and the natural. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. then language must reflect this division. in Western esotericism generally. the light and the dark. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. love and wrath. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. divine in its origin. as are nature and humanity. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. conversely. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. although there are divisions between archetypes. In this sublime unity there is no congealing into an objectified self-other division—through paradox and enigma is expressed the sheer transcendence out of which emerges the dazzling archetypal realm. in that there remains an observer. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. Indeed. as we have seen. Above. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. 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 no sense of separation between self and other. just as. or divided from the divine. In other words. in other words. or subject and object. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. There is simply awareness. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. in the archetypal realm there is . at the far limit of what we can express in language. or the divine eye that sees itself. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. of course. There emerges a spacious or open quality.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. Here we are.
transformative. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. Undoubtedly. By contrast. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. or separation into self and other. secular. secular. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. 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. Language. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. the divine is perforce unmentionable. suppression. and objectified worldview. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. this objectification of literature and literary theory has much to do with why such theoretic discussions are so often unreadable—from a viewpoint within the ambit of Western esotericism. and the participatory. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. During this . Here we are beginning to discern how Western esotericism in all of its various manifestations or guises is fundamentally different from modern views in its approach to language. The massive machine of the modern technological. or manifest more indirectly in literature. For Western esotericism. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. nature. for after all. in these esoteric traditions. in modern literary theory or theories of language. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. and so forth. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. But by the late twentieth century. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. consumerist state was built from a materialist. which is rife with the language of objectification. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. and the divine. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. but never owned. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language.
Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. But to begin to explore this new. but also for society itself. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. A R T. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. after all that we have surveyed. to name only a few. at least for some. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. If so. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. magic or theosophy. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. scientific or otherwise. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. Buddhism. in particular. in theosophic works. As we have seen throughout this study. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. and the arts. inner territory. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. too. profound connections between humanity. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. religion. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. To this we now turn. which is to say. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. of awakening latent. and the divine. psychology. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . 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. troubadours and chivalry. L I T E R AT U R E . nature. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. the Lullian art. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. including elements of the sciences.
E. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. A. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. In this view. joys. images. It may be of use. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks.”111 Unconscious of creation. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. as the seers tell us. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. To use Plato’s metaphor. . Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. rejoicings. A. beyond history. found throughout Western history. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. at this juncture. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. not the life of shadows. to turn to a poet. ascends to “that high state where. (George William Russell. Naturally. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. to write presupposes already having seen. 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. In this esoteric view of literature. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. he simply began to murmur line after line. Indeed.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. as we have seen. The poet’s psyche. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. E. and the divine. But A. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. A. E. 1867–1935). wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. nature. and indeed. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. E. 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 . he tells us. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. In his book Song and Its Fountains. . but of reality. . a friend of Yeats. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes.
”114 A far exile from that glory. was later translated into words. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul.” Thus. analyzes the movement of consciousness.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. A. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. Yeats. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. Yet A. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. A. B. later discussed with W. and after that images. but all was a motion in deep being. but of the universal spirit he understood little.”113 This movement of consciousness A. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. even if unaware of precisely how or why. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. E.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. E. E. “I have. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. A. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. “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.” Although he struggled to remain in this state.” he wrote. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. 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. There was neither sight nor sound. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. the creation of poetry in A.”115 He understood something of the psyche. E. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. recognized his limits.”117 For this reason. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. gone inward into itself. it draws nigh to its own divine root. perhaps surprisingly. E. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. and song. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. E. E.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. the poet.” he wrote. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth.”116 Still. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. though too often they have not kept faith . from a descent after an ascent.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. looks upon the poet as a prophet. A. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy.
”121 These insights of A. In essence.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. and they wove into drama or fiction. But at times they still receive the oracles. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. the further we come out of the animal Nature. And A. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. the view of literary creation that A. they come “trailing clouds of glory. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. in that solitude we may meet multitude. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. when we seem most alone. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. . feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. characters they had never met in life. may. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. when it becomes truly self-conscious. . In Christian theosophy. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. for instance. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. E.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . . and imbued with this new visionary understanding. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. E. A. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. E. Throughout our investigations. 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. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. without knowing it.” The psyche. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). or division into self and other. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. E. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme.” And there is more. Thomas Bromley.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. as did the sybils of old. 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. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire.
E. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. One experiences great bliss. like theater.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. E. and taken on a kind of life of its own. In the first case. there also is participation in what is observed. the poet is more like a receiver. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. the book or work has been separated from its writer. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. in the latter case. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. a novel. in A. Reading. or drama. But nonetheless. We are carried along on the words of the author. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. passive. say. or of Captain Ahab. fiction. by A. and nearer both to Heaven. In this realm. events. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. although there is still an observer and what is observed. as if we knew them as neighbors.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. In Bromley’s case.’s case. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. irrespective of time or distance—and A. For who. symbols. and to one another in the Internal. at least temporarily. the author also is not directly present. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. more powerful. in between both author and reader. absorbed completely in a book. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. on the other a visionary poet. and so requires our sympathetic participation. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. One becomes what one sees. where.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. and we must. and between the models that they represent. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. which later emerge in poetry. as if by happenstance. Of course. Likewise. and experiences. E. which no earthly Distance can hinder. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. and the world is shot through with light. for instance.
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. writing. The difference. and one has entered a new world. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. the visions of the theosophers are real. playing for keeps. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. essays. By contrast. For when a reader engages in a literary work. one could argue that what is ‘other’ in visionary experiences like those alluded to by Bromley is in fact merely a psychological projection of the ego. but eventually puts the book down. for example. And indeed. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. existing in a supraphysical dimension. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. fiction. . where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. symbolizes eternal conditions. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. presumably. and books. and one enters into the new birth. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. and in Kabbalistic practice. or to have it stricken. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. We see this in the Book of Revelation. Ordinary. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. 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. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. our authors tell us. Perhaps. of course. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. Of course. in alchemical work.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. drama. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. habitual self is gone. 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. magic is real. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. one turns away from the painting. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. we might reverse the terms. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. whereas the esotericist is.
Nicholas . in the process of creating a fictional world.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. fiction. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. their works like second nature. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. If a primary aim of the alchemist. 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. Secret Societies. Yet at the same time. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. Johannes Tauler. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. the literary work. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. But fundamental questions remain. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. the alchemist. Jacob Böhme. R. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. John Pordage. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. or Kabbalists—by self-election. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. the gnostic. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. but what came into existence through him. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. R. but there is much more to be done. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. the Kabbalist. lives on. Abraham Abulafia. Ramon Lull. Thomas Bromley. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. so too is the author. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. Meister Eckhart. gnostics. the Kabbalist. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. Jane Leade. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. and may even connect profoundly with each other. is to attain paradisal immortality. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry.
his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. but in every case. 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). and indeed even God himself. precedes all being. “add it to his own arsenal of power. the author is reaching out. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. to be guided by the author. In being. Berdyaev tells us. 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. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. for as I have discussed elsewhere. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. to in Emerson’s words. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. and consciousness. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. taken together. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. in the . literature. therefore. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. moreover. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world.” It may well be.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely.124 The Ungrund. esoteric or not. 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.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy.
It is knowledge. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. As Berdyaev points out. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. and therefore of division. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. and its expression in human creativity. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. particularly the arts of literature. the artist.” and “is the beginning of a different world. and especially on the . Nishitani Keiji. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. correlate to this? That Berdyaev is of paramount importance in contemporary philosophy I have no doubt—but his work in the end remains caught in the dilemmas that have proved so tragic for Christianity as a whole. “Creative activity. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. fictional. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence.” he writes. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. the artist. of creativity. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. issues from existential eternity.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. “it is an end of this world. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. or to put it another way. a different sort of knowledge. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom.
156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. in other words. self-identically. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. While this is our own act. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. In Nishitani’s work. “an equality in love. This intensifies our narcissism. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. . This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. This is the field of shunyata. As we have seen throughout this study.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. or the emptiness of all things. that is. or “true emptiness. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. one retreats into self even further. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. Nishitani. or rather in unison. As rational or personal beings. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. is beyond definition. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. Out of this transcendence alone. and indeed.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible.”128 True emptiness. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another.” Authentic freedom is. for faced with nihility. of course. emerges authentic freedom. and has the effect not of separating. Nishitani affirms.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. and us from them. it is not something we are free to do as we please . we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. The force of destiny is at work here. egoistic mode of being. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. or perhaps better still. what is the same thing. . . . begins where we all are: with our ordinary.” an “absolute openness. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. What . . self-centered consciousness. . the choices of the will.
joined together with one another. so Western esotericism suggests. have at their center this mystery of the word. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. anything that can be read or written. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise.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. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. . in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. seen as a whole. language is indeed divine. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. with nature. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. write and are written. The Western esoteric traditions.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. as the sense of self and other diminishes. It can lead us. a calling toward what we are meant to be. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. Paradoxically. We read and are read.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. for all their diversity. including paintings. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. But in any case. political. or even linguistic construction. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges.
3. Faivre. in this field..edu. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.esoteric. 1994).esoteric. mostly by North American scholars. See Steven Katz. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. The State University of New York Press series of books in Western esotericism edited by David Applebaum also represents an important contribution to this field. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after.org. See www. see Antoine Faivre. ibid. 5. 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.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. 2. 1992). See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. See Arthur Versluis.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. 4.edu ] for articles. much of it in French. a Dutch scholar. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. ed. See also the journal Esoterica [www. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill.msu. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought.msu. 159 . including Wouter Hanegraaff. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism.aseweb. the official Web site of the ASE. For an overview of Western esotericism. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. See Hanegraaff. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism.
248. Paul: Grail. 1863). in Arthur Versluis. 2000). The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola.. See. p. 140. eds. Ramon Lull. cit. p.. whether they know it or not. 1991). See Gershom Scholem. 11. 151. p. 111. p. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. ed.. 1975). Gnosis and Literature (St. Ibid. 223. 4. 83 ff. John Pordage. 76–106. See Charbonneau. 1999). p. 7. 8. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1973). pp. 1978). “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. see also Scholem. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. Mircea Eliade. p. See Arthur Versluis. trs. (London: Sheldon. 309. Paul. 10. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Victor Sogen Hori. 97. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. Nag Hammadi Library. Sophia. Jean La Fontaine. 145. pp. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. See Frederick Goldin. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. 12. pp. pp. pp.. 18 ff. See ibid. p. 10–15. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. 13. pp. pp. See Versluis. 14–21. p. 37 ff. See Versluis. 2000). 51–89. pp. Peers. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. Paragon House. Paul: Grail. 2000). 2. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. 6. 5. CHAPTER ONE 1. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. 307.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. op. . On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. pp. 1992). Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. 1986). Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. E. 9. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. p. 5. 1965). Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. 180. 2. Translation is mine. Paul: Paragon House. 1996). Nag Hammadi Library. 3.. 1974). CHAPTER TWO 1. 219–233. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. Dreams. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. 14. Myths. See Faivre.. 3. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. 4.
ed. Ibid. 49–50. 9. . 1965).B. I. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. Ibid. in The Zohar. 7. See A. p. Ibid. 1983). as well as Antoine Faivre and F. Ibid. See Arthur Edward Waite. Ibid.. trs.314. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. 20. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press.. 1986). 1964). p. C. p. Vasoli. 1969). 13.351. 29... op. 1992).205b–206a. IV .312. 23. cit. 51. Twersky. eds. p..331. 11.. 38. 32. (Hildesheim: Olms. 197. see also Scholem. See. Ibid. p. Scholem. 1985). Tristan. 61.76. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 12. Gershom Scholem. 22. 57.. 37. op.. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. 197.71.320–323.. 34. Ibid. pp. 1987). See Moshe Idel. p.. 101–102. I. 66. 33. 27.. Ibid. 26. 31. Cassirer. I. Origins. 52. 1779). The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press.. pp. p. p. Zohar IV . A.80 ff. 57. p. See Verman. ed. 8. II. cit. II. and Françoise Secret. Origins. p. 1961). 14. 1979). 250. p. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher.. 35. Ibid. ed.. 24. Joseph Blau. Bonner. 18. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press.C. I. See Verman. p. 25. Ibid. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. for instance. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. M. Doctor Illuminatus. p. 28. Ibid. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. ed. 59. cit. I. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. Ibid.77. p. 29. 394. 278. 10.75. trs.325.. 15.. 298 ff. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. See J.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. 270. 1953) I.. op. Ibid. (London: Soncino. 36. Ibid. See Mark Verman. I. 246. 1984). 21. et al. Dan. 1988).205b.. Simon. Cassirer. Origins. p.. Ibid. 280. see also Moshe Idel. ed. I. 16. p. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. p.. 19. II. See Pico della Mirandola.. 17. Opera omnia. II.. 30. See Scholem.
University of Texas at Austin. 60. (Cassel: Wessel. diss. 43. 42. . Ibid. for text. Confessio. 1971).. p. ed. ms. 41. 255. 1988). Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. 59. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks.A. 37. p. 1784).: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. Fama. See Josten.77. der gantzen weiten welt . The Alchemy of Art. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. 61. Confessio. 57. 1975). 246. William Huffman. Ibid. 47. C. Ibid. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates.. Confessio. including two physicists. 49. 220. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. . for background. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Ibid. 1966). p. 371. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. 252.D.. See also Marsha Schuchard. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. 54. p. Fama.. Yates. 45. for the reader’s convenience.. 51.. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 251.. 53. 22. Ibid. 260. M. Ibid.P. Theatre of the World. 62. I have translated this work of Pordage. p. I. forthcoming. See.. . Fama. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. p. 253. p. 1998). 67. see Donald Dickson. 55. p. See Versluis.. 49.. Ashmole. Resicrucian Enlightenment. 221. 44. p. Ibid. Josten. Ibid. See Versluis. I. cit. and even chart them astrologically.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. 50.. See. Confessio. p.. Ibid. From von Welling. 242. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . and others. . 40. a theologian. 52..M. p. p. See Versluis. 129. The following page references are to Yates. (Cassel: Wessel. II. p. . The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. p.A.O.. 48. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. in a group called the Round Table. Frances Yates. p. 241. p. Secret Societies. Ibid. H. D. Ibid. 1997). (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. Freemasonry. Hall. Ashmole. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. op. 1615).. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. a musician. Ibid. 1999).. table of contents.681. 63. p. 58. 238. p. and also written an extensive commentary on it.102–104. 257. Ibid. 56. a cosmologist. 1972). ed. 46.M. See Frances Yates. p. 77..O. Fama.
Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. 257–272. Ibid. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. See Edmond Mazet. 1734). p. See Dickson. see also Max Ernst. 170–171. 1992). p. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. 6. CHAPTER THREE 1.. 2002). p. 67. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press.. p. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). 66. . D.. 2001). cit. p. 7. See George David Henderson. p.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. 1935). 417. p. 10. Ibid. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 9. ed. On Emerson and Hermeticism. 240. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. Milosz. 1967). pp. 110. 1926). 4. 162–168. Mazet. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. V de L. . Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. Faivre. 2. 1997). It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. 191. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. 1992). 268. O. 654. pp.. 409. pp. 1985). ed.. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. 247–249. See also Bernard Fay. See James Anderson. Ibid. Ibid. 71. See also Schuchard. Revolution and Freemasonry. changes. 1997). Religion. regulations . See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. A. pp. E. . 1952). 1948). p. 68. Brown. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. 66–67. 414. pp. 8. Charge I. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. pp. 11.. 5.” 99–134. S. 39. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. Freemasonry. See M. 170–171. Paul: Grail. and Albert Cherél. . 253. Sloane. Hugh Trevor-Roper.. 172–173. Ibid. 70. see Versluis. Ibid. the Reformation. Ibid. 65.. Warlick. and Margaret Bailey. Franklin. M. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. p. M. op. 3. 69. pp. 256. (London [Philadelphia]: B. Ibid. H. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. citing B. (New York: Crossroad. p.
. 226–227. . pp.. For a more extensive study. ed. pp. 25. 22.. 297–298. 180–181...” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. op. 464. 38. Milosz. pp. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. 30. Ibid. pp. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. 34. Ibid. op. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 469.. 210–211.’s] perspective. Ibid. 296. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. pp. Ibid. 32. The question. Friedman writes that “From her [H. 36. 39.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. pp.. pp. p. of course. 1994). 13. p. p. Susan Friedman. 17. See W... 23. 29. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. cit. 24. Ibid. 21. H. Ibid. 2001). 1989).. pp. 37. Ibid. see Steven Bullock. 28. Ibid. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Ibid. See Versluis. op. D. 26. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. cit. 277. 158). Ibid. 178–179. p..1 ff. Milosz.. 41. p. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. introduction by Albert Gelpi. Ibid. 455. 48–52.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety.. p. Ibid. 1981).. Milosz. pp. cit. 18. pp. 300. D. D. Lib. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 19.115. Ibid. p. . Ibid.. 35.. 174–175. Ibid. I. Milosz. 299–300. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. Ibid. 27. 182–183. p. I. 20.. See Versluis. trs. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. 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. p... 31. pp. 206–207. 33. 14. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones.. Ibid. 1982). pp. 299. . see Versluis. 204–205. Ibid. Ibid. 1996). p. 224–225. 40.. 16. Scott. 303. 1985). 248. 8–9. For the poet of the modernist era. pp. 15. 465. 157–206. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy.. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . Ibid.
H. 48. ed. 271–272.” 30–31. 18. 50. 154–155. Irina Gutkin. for documentation. 49.. 44. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. 50. Ibid. 13. 20. 223. 225–246. 51. 61.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. 168. 222... 1967). p. 47. H. Futurism. D. See Jane Augustine. Ibid. 43. 24.. Kathleen Raine.. 9. 21. 1... 74.. 53. Ibid. 32. D. 19. “Tribute to the Angels. p.. The Gift. E. 102. 68. 33. Ibid. 73. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press.. 50–51. D... 55.. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. See. 156–159. 63.. p. 259. p. 60. 56. 71. “Walls. Ibid. 75. 65. 66. 72. There are. See M. Ibid. 67. p. Ibid. in her “Zinzendorf Notes.” 1.” on which see TG. pp. 70. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. pp. D. Ibid. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . H. 21. See H. 284–285. ed. Rosenthal. Ibid. 157. Ibid. D. Ibid. D.. 69. 57. 1998).” 17. p. p. 2001). The Gift. Ibid. Ibid.. 23. 58. 52. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 46. other authors we could consider here. Ibid. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida.. Ibid. rpt. Social Realism” in B. p. Ibid. Rimius. H.. 62. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. p. Georg Heinrich Loskiel... See H... Ibid. 165. 66.. as well as this entire collection of articles.. 39. 64. pp. 29. 59. p. 17–19. 1997). Kraus. 70.. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne.. p.. 54. Ibid. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. Ibid. 35. 67. D. 1988). “Notes. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). “The Walls Do Not Fall. see also. pp. p. hereafter cited as TG. 45. of course. Ibid. Warlick.” pp. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 169. These passages were transcribed by H. Ibid. 1989). 20... Ibid. and I certainly recommend her article..
291. 127.. E. and Meditations. pp. 82–83. 3 vols. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves.). The Secrets of Dr. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. 78.). p. 83. 1997). cit. 1994). 96. p. I. Ibid. p. S. pp. Collins. Vision. op. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. 84. Ibid. Poems. retained his magical regalia in his office. p. 76. p. 10.d. p. 93. 197.. C. Meditations. 87. .. The Magical World of the Inklings. S. Ibid. 1994) p. 98. 40. 88.. p. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. Gareth Knight. 239. p. p. Faivre. 382. 79. 154. Ibid. p. 104–104. Lewis. 43. 90. Vision. Fortune. (London: Quaritch. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. 85.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). 101. 102. 1893). Yeats. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. 87. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. pp. p. pp. 80. 1993). The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element.. 86.. cit.. Gareth Knight. 82. op. 40. p. See for instance. p. pp.. Lewis. Dion Fortune. p. Faivre.. Dion Fortune. 92.. 102.. 103. 91.. 100.. B. Southey. 97. 89. 77. p. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. hereafter noted as Meditations. 20–21. Ibid. cit. 88. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. p. op. p. 81. 95. 115. 21.. 1990). Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. 91. so I have decided not to include them here. Ibid. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. See Antoine Faivre. Collins. 99. 323. Ibid. n. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza.. Ibid. 1994). Letters from England (London: Longman. ed. including Fortune’s. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. 101. 1814). 112. See on this point. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. Ellis and W. 95.. Ibid. Ibid. See Collins.. 94. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. C. The Works of William Blake. 124–125. Ibid. 1988) p. noted hereafter as Vision. Ibid. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. p. p. 322. Ibid. Dion Fortune. 70–71.. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 320.25.
Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 106. Ibid. p. See.. Ibid. 117. 1957).29–30. 109. Ibid.. Ibid. Ibid. 94.. 62. 1980).” 108. Christosophia. Ibid. ed. p. Ibid. Futurism. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. p.. Versluis. IV . 285. p...D. Ibid. 63. 103. E. 1991). pp. “Vorrede. Ibid. pp. Socialist Realism. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Peter Erb. for example. pp. 39. 115. 129. 126. 110.. 78. 71 ff.. 199. 114. 95.. . See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Diss. 123. Ibid. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 170. Nishitani Keiji. pp. 1958). p. I.31. 1994).” and I. 93. Ibid. I added the colors. p. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 108 ff. 119.31.. 1997) p... 106. Freedom and the Spirit.” in B.1. Ibid. 113. 105. 118. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 128. 74. See Versluis. 116. Nicholas Berdyaev. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 40 and pp. 107. Knapp. Ibid. 111. See also The Destiny of Man.1 ff. 1978). trs. 124. p.. p. Ibid. See Charles C. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 127. p. p. 120.. 225. Irina Gutkin. p. 130. II. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. p. forthcoming.. 122. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. p. Christosophia IV .NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. p. 125.. 194 ff. 112. Rosenthal. Ibid. 25 ff. 40. p. 275 ff. 105.. Ibid... 62–63. p. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. Toronto: 1948). A. 121. “Warnung an den Leser..
94. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 97. 93. John. 82 Bacon. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 25 Ashmole. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 93. Giordano. 152 Brahe. 2. 80–82 Astrology. 52. 28. 129. 148 Barrett. initiatory nature of. 66 Corbin. Thomas. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. Abbot. Tibetan. Cecil. 53. 81–82 Descartes. 75. Jacob. 2 Aurea Catena. 30. 56 Bahir. 56 Amor Proximi. 63. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. Roger. 22 Cordovero. 17 Blake. 142. 143–144. Elias. Heinrich Cornelius.INDEX Abulafia. René. 64. 150 Browne. Geoffrey. 94. Franz von. 68–71. 5. 90. 47. 147 Buddhism. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 1. 28. 81 Bruno. 154 Dogen. 55–67. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 129. 96 Dee. 79 Backhouse. Arthur. 31. 82–83 169 . ix. 20. John. 18. 56 Art. 46 Christ. 40–41. 24. 56 Baader. 1 Collins. Sir Thomas.E. 40 Bible. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 11 Dury. 53. Francis. 96 Berdyaev. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 4. 5. 138 Basilides. 80. 97 Cremer. 81. 25 Apuleius. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 28–29. 24. 63 Anderson.. 77 Bromley. 75 Chivalry. 95. 5. 141 Agrippa. 72 Consciousness. 102. 129–135 Comenius. William. 59 Dante. William. James. 89. 42. 137 Boethius. 53 A. 148–150 Alchemy. 51. 14. 28. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 59. Nicholas. 45 Chaucer. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. Henry. 35–43. 57 Beatrice. 140. 141–142. 27–28. Abraham. 139. 154 Book of Life. John. 80 Böhme. 68. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 10. Moses. 76 Buddhism. Tycho. 61–62. 99 Dickinson. 78. 57. 81–82 Dee. Emily. 78.
10–12. Robert. Johann Wolfgang. 77 Gelpi. 28. 151 Merswin. 7–8 Esotericism. 2. 103. 21–22 Hermetica. 82 Knight. Francis. Jean. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. Jewish. Mircea. 82–83 Heidegger. 89–103 Hermetism. 7–8. 123. ix. 140 Hippolytus. 111 Emerson. Margaret. 57–59. 36–39 Gutkin. 9. 44.S. Albert.. 76. 120–122. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 9 Eliot. 22. Rulman. 19. 109. 35. 63. 55 Koran. 40 . 27–28 Gnosticism. 8–9 Larronde. 2. 100 Hirst. 68. 100 Marcus.D. 12–15. Gareth. 56 Maier. 25 Hinduism. 56 Fludd. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 77 Flamel. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 26–31. 5. 106 Eschenbach. 8. 84 Lewis. 21. 99 Grail cycle. 112 Friedman. 90. 103–119 Hardenberg. 56. Samuel. 138 Katz. T. Christian. 79–86. Georg Heinrich. 111 Geheime Figuren. 104. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 53. 42. Meister. Brian. Joseph de. Martin. 123–126. Johann Georg. Irina. Johannes. 153 Homer. 2. C. 105. 95 Hartlib.S. 109 Hermeticism. 25 John.. Wolfram von. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. Nicholas. 18–21. 104. 104 Gichtel. 52–54 Kabbalah. Antoine. Steven. 54. 50. 102 Lee. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 137 Goethe. 29 Mazet. 153–154 Eriugena. Edmond. 112 Lull. 102 Ernst. Michael. 97. Herman. 72–73 Faust. Abraham von. Jane. 89. Ralph Waldo. 2. Edward. 56 Jerusalem. 51 Islam. 29 Hiram. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 76 Maistre. 101 Freemasonry. John. 88-89. 19. 100. 5 Hori. 50. 11 Hutton. Susan. 21 Heydon. 78 Gnosis. 104.170 INDEX Eckhart. 43–45. 19 Faivre. Andreas. Désirée. Jewish. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 19–21. 139 H. Dion. 46–52. Book of. Ramon. 83. 107. 84. 140 La Fontaine. 46. 4. 112 Imagination. 75. Joseph Edward. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 127 Frankenberg. ix. 69 Franklin. 89.. 101–102 Frey. 1 Keeble. 22–24 Initiation. Max. 80–81 Fortune. 103 Fuller. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 127 Loskiel. 65. 122 Koan. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 31 Melville. 126. 1. 120. Benjamin. 30. 89. 102 Leade. Victor Sogen. 129 Kelley. 105 Eliade. Carlos. John Scotus.
79. Johannes. Czeslaw. 99 Scholem. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 47. 53 Theosophy. 89–103. 63 Rici. Blaise. Kathleen. 70. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. Jean. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 123 Poimandres. 14–15. 14. 32. Pierre. 13. 87–88. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 85.. 90 Talmud. Bernadette. 19. Samuel. 76 Parzival. 29 Pre-Socratics. 53 Theseus. 118 Ramsay. 112–113 Morienus. John. 58 Numbers. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 108. 115. 137. 94. 71–76 Rousseau. 139 Saint Martin. 141 . 51. Milton. 69. 69. 113. 79. Johann Christoph. 99 Prospero. O. ix. Book of. 21 Poiret. 48 Mysticism. 47–48. Marsha Keith. 99 Pasqually. Thomas. 116 Nature [concept of]. 39–40 Solovyov. 11 Russian literature. 99. 43 Synesius. Paulus. 36. 53 Rilke. 76 Sufism. Marguerite. 57. George. Vladimir. 74. 120. 19. 102 Science [and the sciences]. Henry. 116 Self. 64. 92. 5. 148 Platonic archetypes. 109. 66 New Age. 92. 67–69. 32 Plato. 53. 23–26. Emanuel. Andrew Michael. 26 Tolkien. Gustav. 152 Richter. J. Louis-Claude de. 115 Pythagoras. 4 Reuchlin. 52–53 Revelation. 150. sacred. 115. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 18. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). William. 140 Tauler. 40 Raine. 18. 56 Origen. 37–38 Pascal. 90 Milosz. Gershom. René. 52 Piers Ploughman. Sir Walter. 154–156 Norton. 46. John. 40 Milosz. Joseph. 56 Moses de Leon. Johannes. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 103. Gospel of. 99 Philip. 52 Pansophy. 17. 105.. 140 Templars. 50 Schuchard.R. 56. 4 Shakespeare. 138 Stellatus. 148 Seidel. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 73. 60. 140 Tao te ching. 90. 75–78 Paracelsus.R. 103. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 114–115 Thenaud. 89. 136 Science and objectification. 103 Pyrlaeus. 105. 26–27 Moravians. 25. 21. 84 Pordage.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 5. 112 Ripley. Robert. Rainer Marie. 108 Rimius. 119 Raleigh. 87–88. 56 Swedenborg. 59. Martinez de. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 99. 92. 2. 84 Reading. 63. 8 Rosicrucianism. 9. Jean. 152 . 2. 110 Southey. 90 Porete. 148 Radical ecology. 5 Minotaur. 68. 46. 64 Roberts. Christian. Gillaume. 2 Postel.V ix.
148 Zen Buddhism. 35–43 Ungrund. 9. 103.. 156 Zinzendorf. 122–123 Williamson. Charles. Frances.B. 64. Hugh. 75 Yeats. 84 Williams. 86 Welling. 2. Adam. 111 Warlick. 148 Zosimos. Arthur. 55. Jean-Baptiste.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. 103. W.E. 79 Willermoz. 88.. 111. 140 Valentinus. 110. 56 . Nicholas. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 82 Troubadours. 31 Viterbo. ix. 63. 101 Weishaupt. Georg von. 112–113 Zohar. 67–69 Upanishads. Egidio Cardinal. 103. 10. 106 Washington. 104. David. 120. 53 Versluis. M. George. 48. 137. 10. 89. 10. 116 Yates. ix.
Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. 2 vols. 2000). notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. Imagination.msu.. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. along with its companion book. Gnoses. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. (Graz: Akademische.esoteric. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. (Leuven: Peeters. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. 1994). A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. 1998). as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. Earlier. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. 1975). 1998). 2001). 1992).edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. 1956). An exceptionally wide-ranging book is Wouter Hanegraaff ’s New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 1992). eds. 1998).aseweb.org. Theosophy. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.
Gnosis and Literature (St. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 1996). 1999). Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. edited by Brian Keeble. Paul: Grail. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. 1996). Paul: Grail. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. . This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended.174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. Paul: Paragon House. 1994). Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. 2001). 2002). and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 2000).
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