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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s . Art. Literature.Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism.
For information. Occultism—History. electrostatic.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. Title. address State University of New York Press. 90 State Street. Laurie Searl Marketing. Authur. literature. NY 12207 Production.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . paper) 1. Anne M. Occultism in art. cm. Suite 700. art. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. magnetic tape. Occultism in literature. 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. 3. photocopying. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. mechanical. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. recording. p. Series. Albany. 2. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. II. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. I. BF1411.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 . Rosicrucian.Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. Pansophic.
and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 . Art.viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature.
ix . This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. C. Milosz. In writing this book. and Cecil Collins. Hence. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. Lewis. S. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. At the very least. O. but the work’s focus remains Western. H. but as the book took shape. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context.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. traditions. V. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. but in keeping with my original impetus. At the suggestion of an early reader.. figures. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. and consciousness itself. D. literature. 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. art.
“The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. including the adapted cover illustration. Milosz. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. 1985). xi . and to the editors of Gnostica 3. Poems. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. 1994) and Meditations. and to Studies in Spirituality. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. from Trilogy. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. 1997).). (Ipswich: Golgonooza. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. each of whom helped to make it a better work. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble.D. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images.. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. V. de L. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. 2001). from Trilogy.D. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.D.).
or conveying spiritual experiences. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. but also. In this book.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. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. These are not. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. however.1 Here.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. religious. provoking. figures. and metaphysical or transcendent. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. mutually 1 . and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. even apophatic mysticism.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. and one that has ramifications in many directions. Yet for this to take place. and perhaps even more critically. artistic. and otherwise. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. literary. the study of mysticism. how esotericism is transmitted in the West.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. are now appearing.
of course. Christian gnosis. however. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. or gnosis. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. Jewish Kabbalah. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. 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. In particular. Christian theosophy. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. religious. Here. magic. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. above all this is a book about knowing. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. and social histories. philosophical. mysticism. theosophy. In essence. including alchemy. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. Like the koan. Not at all. Yet these traditions. do have certain characteristics in common.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. magic. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. left out of literary. or Hermeticism. provoke. Undoubtedly. Rather. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. Freemasonry. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. Rosicrucianism. and about how we come to know. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. astrology. that is what this book is about. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. however disparate. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. this must be our primary focus. or convey spiritual awakening. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. astrology. examples of it include alchemy. . But the time for such biases is past. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance.
a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. and cults existed side by side. Western esotericism is. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. At the same time on the religious front. In many respects. in my view. a vast field. despite their often almost bewildering variety. To navigate one’s way through these movements. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. we find on the social front. and there are many treasures to be found there. sects. nature. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. . which is often seen either as outdated. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. Thus. By looking more closely at the origin.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. therefore. For as we will see. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. when we look at Western societies. and to alternative forms of spirituality. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. and to understand their patterns and meaning. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. the Western esoteric traditions. our time resembles the early Christian era. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. 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. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. of course. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. And underlying these is. when a panoply of religions. proliferating wildly. about reading the stars. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. what their predecessors are.
but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. why do we travel with .’ Unexamined here. By contrast. of course. when we read the works of an Emerson. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. we feel as someone else feels. or spiritual knowledge. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. 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. also about union. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. Likewise. If there are great writers. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. in other words. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. And when we read a great poem. When we read a novel. imaginatively enter into different lives.’ that is. What is more. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. but can be transmuted. we have developed machines that ‘read. refers to spiritual knowledge. Greek in origin. and each requires the other. purgatory. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. but with consciousness itself. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. reading here guides one toward gnosis. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves.’ itself a metaphor for our time. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. and ultimately with the divine. The word gnosis. however. minerals and stars. The mystery of reading is. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. In every experience of literature. so too there are great readers. we enter into another’s world. and heaven. is much deeper than it might at first appear. and will require much elaboration. 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.
But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. like so many others. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. fiction. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. 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. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. not about accumulating more information. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. drama. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. 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. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. Rather. where we are from. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. and essays. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. and when we read them. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. 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. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. What is more. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. and where we are going. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition.” I am extending the word beyond its usual implication: the canonical (or noncanonical) series of more or less conventional authors from Homer to Dante and Chaucer to Milton. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. We make connections. we understand. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus.
have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. or manipulation. most notably Western esoteric traditions. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. it suffuses our language. but for connection and union. nature. people most of all. and everything becomes a matter of techné. finally. including people. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. in that to follow such a path means that one has to leave behind modern objectifying preconceptions of how one is separate from nature and the divine. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . the way we see the world. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. 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. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. but also the even more primal act of knowing. indeed. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. and the divine. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. one based not on division but on union. In this respect. 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. as if catalogic. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. grounded in spirituality. quantitative. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. Those studying the humanities. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. By contrast.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. from which we believe that we are separate. living divorced from humanity. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. everything. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. and particularly literature.
and so forth. And in North America as well. and groups in Western European and North American history.6 Subsequently. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. And indeed. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. Indeed. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. and consciousness. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. The reader. literature. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. 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. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. and so to maintain clarity. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. . But the fact remains that there are also figures. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. 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. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. In Western Europe. 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. crystals. so too that choice still exists today. however.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. alone with an author. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. works. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance.
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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-
”11 This is. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. but into conventional consciousness . Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. not beyond it. . eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. 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. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. in his Shobogenzo. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. From this viewpoint. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. I believe. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. but this is by no means to say that therefore there is no such thing as nonconceptual or transcendent knowledge unmediated by language or image. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art.” 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. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. through language and image. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. then it is a breakthrough not out of. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. At one time. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. . Esoteric literature and art—of which koans are in fact an example—may be seen as both pointing toward and as an expression of cosmological or metaphysical gnosis. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. however.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field.
I believe. 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. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. By . If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. This is not to say that the West had or. for that matter. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. What makes Western esotericism different above all. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. frustrating though this may be. I am arguing that in the West. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. as I will propose here. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. 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. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. Rather. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. Like the koan. as means of initiation. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. as in individual daydreams. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. and thus also to the individual. 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.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. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. Rather. 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.
The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. literary or otherwise. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. guide. 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. Imagination. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. This work is circumscribed. in other words. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. We might even go so far as to suggest that an expressed or implied intent on the part of an esoteric work’s creator is a defining characteristic of such works: it forms a kind of ritual initiatory boundary. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. it is not for a general readership. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. the images. it is for the few. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. the action by the act of reading or viewing. For instance. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner.12 As a result. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. For example.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. Obviously.
but here a new magical earth is brought . who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. and this too presents problems. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. not one’s own. But there is a third perspective. Initiates. Sympathetic readers. 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. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself.’ only that one has to make the effort to understand an esoteric work as much as possible sympathetically from an imaginative entry into its realm. I am arguing here that readers must belong to at least the second of these two categories in order to genuinely begin to study and understand esoteric works. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. graspable solution to a koan. and nothing less. in other words. to understand them. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader.” The gnostic. which is what I am proposing here. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. 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. Yet if we answer “yes. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. and 3. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision.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. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. who enter into a work imaginatively. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. 2. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader.
since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. What is more. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. then. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. The realm of the imagination. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. In other words. but resides in a continuum between the two. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. 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. 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. in sum. 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. 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. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. to the divine power within that creates. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. . is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. is by its very nature one of co-creation. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund.
is profoundly different. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. And to find these themes. This. The other kind of writing. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. death. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. we are not so concerned with surveying the entirety of this period—a monumental task best left to others— but with the defining themes that will emerge again and again in later times. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. and resurrection. we must begin in antiquity. and. Here. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. the Book of Revelation. needless to say. however. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. From relatively early on. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. what we may call a 17 . we will look at representative or synecdochic writings.
we can see how anomalous it is. for instance. . and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. revelatory emphasis. legal. and indeed.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. multilayered approaches. so rare—in fact. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. on the other hand. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. 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. and on the other. that one can easily list them. literal. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. should it be ahistorical. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. or technological. and mythic. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. The gnostics. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. be it scientific. of course. as throughout world religious traditions. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. In Christianity. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. an ahistorical.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. Of course. the development of Buddhism. Consider. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. symbolic. By contrast. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. or historical. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. the Word was not literal but spiritual. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum.
In general. one is in touch with inconceivable power. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. but of communication. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. the seeds of all things. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. chiefly vowels. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. Likewise. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. who are worthy of it. true pronunciation. and who else was accepted as orthodox. 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. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. that is. here it is vertical. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. asceticism. but such an approach is not for everyone. and communion. For instance. just . in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. however much their literalist opponents think differently. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. Who was rejected as heretical. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. and spiritual illumination.
through images. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. 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. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. so the letters were altered. 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. paradoxically conveyed often through .2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word.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. 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.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. and macrocosmically. thereby making this conflict inevitable. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. as does the creation of images. are a means to creation’s redemption. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. basilisks. and so forth. Letters and numbers. then. but if the letters were properly restored. 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. such images represent divine aspects. and so forth. and we may recall that Dionysius the Areopagite devoted some effort to discussing how the divine may best be symbolized by unexpected and even grotesque images that keep us from mistaking a beautiful image for the thing itself. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. as principles of creation itself. inconceivable power would be set loose. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. 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. The letters.
but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries.22b) . but share elements in common with all three. tells him. in the first centuries of this era. in symbols and myths. number. “there is communion between soul and soul.” but not like an ordinary sleep. letter. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. Poimandres.” the being. presented in the form of dialogues. “for I am with you everywhere. which were also about death and resurrection.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways.” (X. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. out of which emerges a “holy Word. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. “I know what you wish. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism).” the “voice of the Light.25). and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. of the mysteries tradition. There is no one author of the Hermetica. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. In at least some respects. is self-evident. and image—the very means by which concepts are fixed to begin with! There are two more primary currents that fed into the Western esoteric traditions: Platonism and Hermetism. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition.” From the very beginning. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity.
or direct knowledge of the divine. For from what we have said.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. always there is a fluid. and Hermetism. It is. Like Hermes himself. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. they certainly intermingled. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. what we find is something quite different. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. T H E F I E L D O F T H E I M A G I N AT I O N It is commonplace today to think of the imagination as a means of escapism— the word is roughly equivalent to daydreaming or to fantasy. then. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. traditions. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. mercurial quality to it. and . and there is a witness to the revelation. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. Indeed. yet not strictly philosophical either. Christian esotericism. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. and writings that reveal a great many similarities.” “Active imagination” refers to the meeting of an individual and transcendent beings on an intermediate field that belongs completely neither to the transcendent nor to the mundane world. but this revelatory quality differs markedly from what we see in Plato and bears far more in common with what we find in some Gnostic treatises of revelation. the mystery traditions. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. However. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. Platonism. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years.
and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. and only then. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. beginning with the Revelation to John. There are. when he eats the book. And immediately I was in the spirit. At one point. in the fourth chapter. when he weeps. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. a door was opened in heaven. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. and behold. However. and he interacts with them. Rather. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. I believe that literature.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. saw and heard these things. off the Greek coast.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. and where the earthly past. an elder tells him to weep not. of course. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and behold. once introduced to this sequence. where John meets. he is told to eat. Yet interestingly. mythology. Although the vision has a beginning. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. apparently visionary time. and the auditory part of the vision began. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. or field of the imagination. turned. questions. . . came the following: “After this I looked. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. a mesocosm. quite well known. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. and future are visible. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. and does eat. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. but take place in their own time. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. he sees the twenty-four elders. and in the tenth chapter. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. in other words. a little book sweet as honey. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. John. present. a throne was set in heaven. Then. Above all. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. and one sat on the throne. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent .ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true.
becoming symbolically charged. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. in other words. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . of course.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. John is united with its knowledge. John is given a little book to eat. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. these elements lend themselves very much to an esoteric interpretation: the symbols and numbers represent a secret knowledge known by the few symbolically designated as the “woman in the wilderness. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. there are “other books. of course. all remind us of the prior traditions. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life.13). the Book of Revelation of St. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. The Revelation. angels. One. and Hermetism. and one hundred forty-fours. and are in a sense initiates. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. twelves.12). The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. And then there is. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. found in Judaism. Christian Gnosticism. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. But for our purposes. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. but sweet as honey on his lips. Taken together. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. we will recall. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. Every aspect of life is altered. 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). and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. a gnostic encounter with elders. In the tenth chapter.9). which he does. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. and finds it bitter in his belly.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. the very book that we are reading. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. Additionally. and by eating the book.” during these the end times. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work.
At the same time. words. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. it is an image. all of which belong to the apocrypha. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. Rather. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. Of course. 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. at the Kabbalistic tradition. splendid earthly form: but again. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. Yet because it became canonical. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. the fact that there were so many apocalyptic revelations during the beginning of the Christian era underscores the recognition that such revelations are inherent in . and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. and what is seen. the Ascension of Isaiah. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. seen by a seer. and what is heard. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. where an encounter may take place. and of James and of Adam. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. the Revelation does not stand alone. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. at the mystical tradition. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. including the two books of Enoch. profoundly symbolic numbers. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. a hearer. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery.
’ of participation. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. of being charged. more electric. to make it one’s own. Esoteric literature. as wild as the book of Revelation. we are drawn toward it. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. how hieroeidetic a work is. 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. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. And though we risk being burned. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. and exists more for entertainment. far more than may at first appear. The analogy of electricity. So it is with the story of Theseus. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. it is certainly not the only one. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. without relevance to oneself. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. In other words. ranging from external to internal. often in a simple story. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. 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. a constellation of letters and numbers. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. objectifying it. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. or put better. to the transcendent. or from exoteric to esoteric. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. for although the Revelation is the most well known.
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
embody. and reveal transcendence. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. and in religious experiences. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. or aeon. the first of which had four letters. 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. 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. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. in dreams. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. sacred images. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. and its light “never sets. and the entire name had thirty letters. and numbers emerge in. As we ‘read’ these images.”3 In other words. we become intimate with them. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. Indeed. words. For instance.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. or one will . but different aspects of the same way. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. there is earthly marriage. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife.xxxvi). the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. we participate in what they represent. which is of a totally different order. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. VI. not opposite or even complementary ways. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. although we refer to them by the same names. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. This name was composed of four syllables. in the Gospel of Philip. we find plays on naming and namelessness. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. 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. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve.
Here naming refers. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. evokes. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. but its inseparable companion. for such a one the world is transparent.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. indeed. not to arbitrary designations. This is as true for the canonically accepted authors such as Clement of Alexandria or Dionysius the Areopagite as it is for Valentinus or Basilides. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. characteristic ways of understanding. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. divided consciousness. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. . for the aeon is fullness for him. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition.”4 In other words. gnostic paradigms. Rather. but rather. is. The world has become the aeon. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. the unnameable. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. but is free in life and in death. elusive. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. when one dies. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. The cosmos is no longer opaque. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. not hidden in the darkness and the night. 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. I do not mean to suggest that there is a direct current of influence running from relatively obscure works like the Gospel of Philip or the lost writings of Basilides into medieval and modern times. The nameless and the named are not divided. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. to actual energies that the name itself embodies.
Even more intimately yet. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. By contrast. They are only the sensible expression. separated from the subject who sees. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. a third characteristic. woven together into a . letters. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. and therein we obtain the pure key. without masters. According to rational consciousness. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. which all proceed from the one only essence . and are visible in major European literary works.”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. Here. everyone. in his own degree. Out of the gnoses of numbers. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. On the lowest level. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. however. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. including Piers Ploughman. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. to which I have already devoted some study. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. What is more. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. on which conventional mathematics is founded. which is the mystery of words and of the book. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. nor wholly from without. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. my dear brother. A fourth characteristic is imagery. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. of the different properties of beings. . but men have sometimes lowered them to it. More intimately.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. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. of which the quantitative designation is a husk.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). . of course. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. whether visible or intellectual.
And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. whether. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. By following the courses of Western esotericism. Christian. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. words. Roman. . as John ingests the little book in Revelation. and traditions best express his understanding. but also to convey it. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. from antiquity to the present.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. numbers. to become it. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. 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. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. words. images. and images. in one form or another. 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. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. Its mysteries of names. letters. Egyptian. often do not hold at all. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. Greek. Jewish and Christian and Greek. taken together.
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. 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. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. The troubadour. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. of course. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. in giving honor to his beloved. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. sees her (or him. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. 35 . but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty.
likewise. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. But when we look at these movements as a whole. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. Instead. . the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. Of course. or love’s faithful. 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. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. for example. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. Much more likely that here. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises.36 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Thus there is implicitly a dual quality to much of the writing associated with each of these traditions. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. never explicitly discussing. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. is no. I think. particularly the chivalric tradition. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. that is to say. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. even surreptitious. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles.E. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election.
it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. teacher of Eschenbach. He found that a man named Flegetanis. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. worthy. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. both pagan and Christian. [as] if their innocence drew them back again.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. and to whom God sends his angel. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. then the chivalric life is his one desire. we are told. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. that is. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. For instance. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. In any event. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. . Naturally. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. and this is the mystery of names. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. but there is another source. For. for the name disappears. those who did not take sides. there is no need to erase it. but God may have taken them back. whence had come the Grail. occupying a middle ground between these. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. noble angels. and has a rich reward in heaven.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. Hearing this. a hermit. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries.
then naming them one by one in Arabic. and at the end of the tale. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. Parzival. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. like chivalric literature more generally. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. just as is Western esotericism more generally. in particular. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. Throughout the tale. And at the book’s conclusion. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. Saturn to suffering. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. He was to ask. entertaining. remains this-worldly in emphasis. never becomes explicit: the tale and the esotericism of the Grail that is its center never stray into otherworldly descriptions of journeys through the cosmos.38 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and of how the servants of the Grail fell on their knees before the Grail. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. of course. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. then their sorrows would end. For instance. Rather. When inevitably she does so. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. and if he asked a Question. 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. of course. the spotted knight. the knight is told by Feirifiz. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. we are told to honor women. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail.” chiefly Saturn. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. Yet this implicit esotericism. The Grail. and that of all the Grail servers. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. we will recall. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. but also with the changing of the moon. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. and that is the exalted position of women.
The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. Yet in the story’s conclusion. with the five wounds of Christ. is marked with a tiny colored initial. the poem. part of a tradition that. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. the five virtues. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. This famous passage. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. courtesy. like several others in the poem. the number of maidens serving the Grail.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. he ultimately feels shamed. When Gawain. 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. loving kindness.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. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. marking why Gawain is a fine man. First. And this green marks my second point of observation. these being liberality. of course. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. like Grail tales more generally.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. continence. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. as I have elsewhere shown. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. Once again. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. in Gawain as in Parzival. and. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. the first is the true knot. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. and piety. Gawain’s symbol. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. in the image of the pentangle. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. At the end of Gawain. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. but with the five fingers.
Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. yet it is also the symbol of new life. pus nons val arditz.” The Friends of God were. to be renewed. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387).” or “the Green Isle. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. perhaps cunning can. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. One does find esoteric themes. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. yet at the same time. This same duality inheres in the color green.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. growth. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . / And since talking directly can’t help us. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. green is the color of nature. and the illicit. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. become beautiful and haunting lyrics.4 But this secret language is that of lovers.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. Gawain. the hidden divine messenger. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. although a lay group. and renewal. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck.”] Or again.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. Or again. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. not monastic or priestly. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. like the chivalric orders. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world.
who lived during the fifth century. we end by passing beyond space. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. Dante ends this strange work.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. an intervening figure in the tradition. of course. and here. as does the play that we see here on naming. calls upon the “book of memory. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. and exactly nine years later. this time wearing a white dress. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. This is. Thus Dante’s greatest works. Dante sees Beatrice again. of course. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. There is. with a final vision about which he will not now write. thrice-blessed Lady. and his commentary. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. albeit more literary.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. poems. 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. like the great Divine Comedy. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. is a visionary poem. 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. And of course.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. La Vita Nuova. but the faculty of imaginal perception. full of images. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. time. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. as in the Divine Comedy. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. Boethius. in the ninth hour of the day. and words and ideas into the empyrean. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. In De consolatione. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. philosophical. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia.
marked east and west by gates of marble. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. 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.” Thus this tale. We see in Chaucer’s tale. the theater of art. with an oratory. knarry. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316).42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. daunces” around her. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. Chaucer. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. Chaucer was not an esotericist. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. above all. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. bareyne trees olde. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. But all the same. And these are evoked . yet he went further. 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. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. Like Dante. known as a primary literary figure in English history.” “gastly for to see. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. Here. Earthy. caroles. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work.” with “festes.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus.” In that “portreiture. here. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. and of divine service. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. instrumentz. especially of the knight for his lady. however.” and by “kervere of ymages.
He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. and of course his most well-known and influential works. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. The lover answered. and Ars generalis ultima. we are given the meditations of the hermit. until he was thirty. Ars brevis. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. not just a set of correspondences. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. In the ninety-ninth chapter. Lull. but with the advent of rationalism. Lull was himself something of a troubadour.” The Art represents. These terms. The Book of Contemplation. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. and this is no accident. bringing together the chivalric. (a kind of chivalric code). Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). and indeed. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. 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. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam.” are familiar to students of . was prolific. At this juncture. like Chaucer. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. literature is not only entertainment. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. In fact. given its astonishing scope. one for each of the 365 days of the year. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. 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. (part of his romance Blanquerna). Not surprisingly. “knowledge” and “remembrance. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. For although Lull. troubadour.
Originally. However. 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. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures.’”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. he condensed his art into nine letters. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. all errors are implanted in the world. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. as the readers of Lull’s book. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. by seeing the Sign of God in the east.” In this falsified knowledge. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. whose influence extended across Europe. north and south. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. most of all in the exposition of his art. just as the writer is in his book. west. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. and that is the book. but for purposes of clarity. Of course. This extraordinary art. and images. and by writings. And through presumption. but of those done with the wrong attitude. out of arrogance or presumption. and writings in themselves. Lull used more letters. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. not of figures. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. we are also participating in this relationship. By means of these letters. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. The cosmos represents the divine writing. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. since my Beloved contains all. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. images.’ They asked him. rather than my Beloved in the world. invoking evil spirits as good angels. Here we find a clear condemnation. that is.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. ‘Yes. and profaning holy things with figures. and writings. Further. images.
for instance. has vast implications. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. or that from the Ars brevis. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. and gluttony. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. triangles. . it includes and transcends logic.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. Of course his work is unique. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. In the full art. and so forth. what?. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. depending upon how the letters are combined. found in the Ars compendiosa. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. 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. tables. “goodness. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. prudence. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. for example. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. E—Potestas. B—Bonitas. I— Veritas. God. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. and numerous other arrangements. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. When we consider the prominence of the letter A in numerous esoteric traditions ranging all the way from Buddhist tantrism to Gnosticism to Böhmean Christian theosophy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. At the same time. The Lullian art. justice. whether?. 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.” C signifies “greatness. B signifies. angel. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. Lull himself combined them using circles. trees. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. and avarice. For instance. difference. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. For this reason. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. concordance. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. Hence in many respects. emerging as it did largely in a Spanish ambience perfectly suited to the meeting not only of the primary currents of medieval Christian esotericism—including the chivalric and troubadour—but also of Islamic and Jewish esotericism. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A.
poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. the words. French. troubadour. 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. Rather. and Freemasonry. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. but what is more. And as literature. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. 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. intricately woven. or English gnostic. the chivalric. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. Rosicrucianism. It is. of course. but this is virtually never the case. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. Christian. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era.or eighteenth-century German. 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. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. In these traditions. however. . But there is another element as well that we must recognize: all of these authors in turn manifest unique combinations of tendencies or currents that preëxist and transcend them.
the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. For instance. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. “The affinity with the language.” Scholem concludes. and thus Kabbalism. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. terminology. but also in that they consciously sought to keep this tradition hidden from the general public even while composing copious works that derive from the long tradition of interconnections between literature and religion. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. Castile. and Kabbalism more generally. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah.8 But for our purposes. number. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. But the Bahir. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. dating to the Talmudic period. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. . It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. And in fact. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. 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 book Bahir. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. and cosmogony.E.9 Yet at the same time. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. also may have roots elsewhere.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. for instance. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. and elsewhere in Europe. disclosing them only in parabolic language. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric.
”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male.11 Of course. in one section we read of an “alphabetic hymn which contains the mystery of the twenty-two sacred celestial letters which are decorated with a crown made of the Patriarchs and the holy heavenly Chariot. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. writing the Names of God) and through this power. 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. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. spiritual. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. informing the cultural.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. the tonal accents. For example. caught up in the spirit. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet.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 section 124. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world.” (that is. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. said to symbolize the abdomen. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. and natural realms at once. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. for example. But in any event. including the human body. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. but here takes on the meaning of “com- .” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. 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. supported by some contemporary testimony. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial.” Indeed. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. as a female is fertilized from the male. but another view. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. which comprise a total of 613 letters. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination.
all are found in this Name. action . This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source.”18 This. . “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. so to say. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. and yod in turn becomes twenty. Through this kind of multiplication. we are told. the essence of everything. yet when these Names are removed. inquiry . For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. corresponding to yod. 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. sum and computation of the explication of the Ineffable Name [of God]—unique in the branches of the root of vocalization that is magnified in the thirteen types of transformation. . in the Fountain of Wisdom. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames.” One can easily see. from reading this extraordinary work. . in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt.”17 By investigation. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. made transparent so . speech.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being.” which may or may not itself be an “a.” about which no one.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. and 160. not even Moses. forty. but My Face will not be seen. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. Here. in this context.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. or aleph. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. whispering. is allowed to ask questions.” 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. For instance. .”14 In other words. utterance. all comprehension and thought. out of it emerges the Names. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. an ¯ “ether.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. eighty. voice.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. the tenth letter.
its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath.20 For that matter. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. 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. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. Indeed. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. ’En sof literally means “infinity. not from this side. broadly speaking. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. as Scholem remarks. emerges. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. then. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. that of hardened or congealed materiality. All of these exist. but also metaphysical. sometimes without. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge.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. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. but from the other. Medieval Kabbalism. including thought. is not only cosmological. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically.
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
intricacy. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. and beauty. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. Here. . But before discussing these implications. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. surface is nothing and depth is everything. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. where one finds literature and religion fused. however unfamiliar to us today. To such approaches. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. that ultimately all beings will be saved. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. ramified throughout religious and literary history. much less the possibility of transcendence. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. that is. literature represents portals into the transcendent. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. or vice versa. For Kabbalah. or vice versa. after all. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. Spain. Indeed. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. In the eighteenth century. And when we look at Kabbalism. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. In the twentieth century. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. Such an approach to literature. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written.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. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. which is. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent.
When we look at European alchemical works. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation.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. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication.’ yet not entirely Christian. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. To the first-time observer. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. on the other transmitted by way of literature. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. as we saw earlier. forces one to wrestle with it alone. Indeed. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. However. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. to work it through. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. itself also highly literary: the koan. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. like the alchemical expression or riddle. we cannot help but notice religious references. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. hence on the one hand religious. not entirely ‘pagan. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. So too. alchemy. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. . as the “art of Hermes. Of course. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions.
even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. either. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. that is. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. All of these authors did write on alchemy. Ramon Lull. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. Olympiodoros.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. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. or al-Rhazi (ca. even if it does not entirely belong to these. and Morienus of the seventh century C. alchemical literature. or the animal kingdom.—latinized as Rhazes). we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. Roger Bacon. be they in the mineral. at heart. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. Thus. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. and takes place by way of fire. 825–932 C. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. and the spiritualizing of the body. a tradition transmitted through literature. in the revelation of paradise. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. the embodying of spirit. put another way. Indeed.. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). plant. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. For alchemy extends into many realms. After all.. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy.E. the vegetable. 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. even if its work resembles these in some respects. George Ripley (fifteenth century).E. thirteenth century). as has historical placement. 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. .E. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. One places oneself in the line of what is. Synesius.
it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. Here. bracketed by mythological references. Maier. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. of course. If thou knowest the substance and the method. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. His title. and gave it to us by mighty toil.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis.” that is. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. seek not many utensils for thy labor. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century).”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. “The Golden Tripod. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. and are to come. composer. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. and thou knowest all.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). 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. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. it is enough. . which Vulcan cast into the sea. . in his preface. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. physician. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. . In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. Thomas Norton. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. and author Michael Maier. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. were. Indeed. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored.” In other words.
and the text tells us how at the end of the world. that which is visible. . and that which is palpable. the Sun. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. to become impalpable . and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. and a man sowing seeds. including two archers shooting at targets. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. . and this Mars has done. and proved of the greatest efficacy.” With its spiritual essence.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. 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. in the background a dead tree stump. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. a half-naked man with a scythe. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. on the far left side a single candle. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. is at once literary and practical. before him a burning barrel. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. and to the queen’s left.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. to be invisible.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. as well as an angel blowing a horn. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. being bereft of images . despite its elliptical means of expression. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. while around him are various figures. he cured a sick fellow monk completely.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. while the Moon. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection.” pleads the case of her husband. over a fire. Shortly thereafter. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. a king and a queen. the queen a three-flowered plant. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. the king bearing a staff. Here you see the perfection of our Art. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun.
and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. a man named Herbert. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. and prepared in about four days.”35 And indeed. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. of course. and tortured for four years. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. his last testament. and so was let go. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. Such. Thus we can see that Cremer’s instructions are in fact quite specific and truly are largely devoid of the literary passages found in the previous two tracts. In recent times. two of orange arsenic. His testament is to be copied every sixty years.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. three of rabusenum. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. we are told. so as not to lose legibility over time. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. and two of willow charcoal. strong and pure. 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. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. Dalton said he was happy to die. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. of . two of living sulphur. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. Cremer in this.
water. so one must be cautious in entering into these other dimensions by way of imagination—one is reminded of the proverbial visitor to the faeries who never returned. and animal realms. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. poems. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. to carry it within. not merely from the outside and as other. not all evestra are benefic. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. its subtle essence.’ then. Spagyric medicine. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. Paracelsus tells us. Confronted with such a colloquy. one branch of alchemy. fire. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. But in any event. literary allusions. We may ‘read. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. then. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. but also through the power of the imagination. To say. allegories. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. not only by looking at words on a page. air. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . ethereal counterparts. And of course. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. Of course. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. According to Paracelsus. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. Through these evestra. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. Imagination governs the development of things. for they occupy different dimensions within it. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. but is joined with them in the imagination. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. one may know the inner nature of anything. vegetable. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. epigrams.” consisting in the imaginative landscape.
sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. The terms used in its title—oil. it is entirely real. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . like Valentinus’s. II Chronicles 13:5.” and to a host of Biblical references. like Cremer’s testament. the true medicine and theology. 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. 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. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. while others. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. indeed. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries.74). and mist. emphasize their recipe quality. these two poles became further separated. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. philosophy.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. but here are clearly spiritualized. as a spirit. including Romans 1. . and so forth. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. It is as though here alchemy. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. . flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. more real than what we see in the physical. light air.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. may be interpreted in both ways at once. One of the better examples of this particular emphasis in alchemical literature is to be found in a now relatively little-known anonymous work dated 1686 and titled Amor Proximi. Genesis 1:27. but that in this particular worldview. wine. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. Of course. .37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. . a matter of . But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. This is the true Ground of Nature . fire.
93). Oil. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. we are told. in harmony” (II. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. that is the mystery wherein all lies. In fact. . and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. and a true Medicus. but the Sun light. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. like Hermeticism. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit.80). as a kind of counterpoint. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual.83). but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. but here. Oil. for instance. of existence. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. And so we find the three One. Water. easily translates into a dominant religion. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. these terms have an alchemical provenance. just as we find for instance Islamic . for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. spiritual dimensions of the work. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. nor whence they emerge (II.83).105). the depths. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. is a perspective that is all depth. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. However.77). and one three . Salt. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. Fire. a true Astrologus. Thus. inward dimension. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. or Water is. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. . Yet alchemy. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. the author writes “That the earth is dark. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. and when either one is absent. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works.
beginning with the organization of the first section. and he and his spiritual circle. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. 1675). albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. The implication. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. Indeed. 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. not merely a pastiche. But such rumors aside. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. on sulfur. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. astrology. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. including “Chymie” or alchemy. and Kabbalistic themes. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. astrological. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. and of the third. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. 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. This is not .”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. of course. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. on salt. and gnostic metaphysics. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. Pordage’s work. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. of the second. from spiritual to physical.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. Christian theosophy. on mercury. Kabbalah. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom.
then in a Liquorem . But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends.” Further. diagrams. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). . Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical .”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. sulfur. and in this regard he succeeded. with a plethora of astrological symbols. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. charts. 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 . . and instructions. At the same time. or mercury. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. “Alchimische Fragen. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents.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. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. and “Manna Coeleste.” and so forth. of Pisa. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. Here.” “Thronen. including D. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. we see compressed into a single illustration a whole array of esoteric influences to form a seamless synthesis whose surrounding perspective (visible in the use of Böhme’s term Ungrund to frame the entire illustration) is theosophic. Indeed. tables. . next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. but might well also be called pansophic. das himmlische Manna genannt. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. to properly prepare mercury. meaning the transcendent Godhead. For instance. and calcify it by hand. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. diagrams. he elided many details. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). . von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). Christian scripture.” “Cherubim. in other words.
the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. 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. letters. a natural homology between alchemy and art. or grammars. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. alchemy is like learning to use a language.’ in the broadest possible sense. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. however far-reaching. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. of course. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. animal. In this sense. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. and that we will shortly examine further. both seek to perfect this creativity. but even more in the perfection of humanity.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. broadly seen. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. Thus we may well say that. Alchemy. vegetable. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . air. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. recipes. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. is a relatively modern phenomenon. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. so that everything—mineral. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. like a painting. we can easily see. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. In some respects. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. One must learn both to ‘read. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. Alchemy. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. and to ‘write. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. as well as with what these represent. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. of course. for example. including not only chemicals and equipment. fire. water. but also in the microcosm of the artist. Here. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination.’ There is. and images. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well.
humanity.66 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and the complex kinds of linguistic riddles visible in alchemical works. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. religion. 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. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. one would have the solution. Rather. But in alchemical works. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of 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. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. Here in alchemy. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. This is by no means to suggest. Indeed. literature.’ in the case of alchemy. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. were one to decipher what x and y mean. The ‘solution. Oral commentary by a master is important. like Jung. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. between the observer and that which is observed. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. and the divine. between subject and object. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. In alchemy. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. humanity. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. no doubt of that. like those of science. It is true that more recently theorists. 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. and science are one. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. in the manner of a mathematical equation. However. nature. In Christian terms. I would use the word decoding. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. and the restoration of the right . both of physics and of literary criticism. extends into a range of realms at once. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. Contemporary views of literature. and the divine in ever more profound ways.
So it is with alchemy. but in relation to a host of other currents. divided against the world. We should also keep in mind the growing split. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. 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. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. Indeed. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. and Freemasonry. 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. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. and against the divine. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. R O S I C R U C I A N . and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. against ourselves. In the study of Western esotericism. in particular Christian theosophy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. and twentieth centuries. especially during the eighteenth. As we have seen. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. Rosicrucianism. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. pansophy. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. PA N S O P H I C . This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. nineteenth. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. between the sciences and the . esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. in the modern era. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context.
the discovery of more complex technology. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. near Poland. at least in the secular world. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. The Copernican revolution. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. this sense of unity dissolved. to name only a few of the most luminary. But Western esotericism. rather than seeking to separate. and drawing from his visionary experiences. wrote literary works. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. as well as De Signatura . and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. It is true that. comparative and syncretic. and geology. Indeed. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. chemistry. John Pordage. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. nor is that our aim. However. and Franz von Baader. practiced medicine and astrology. and in religion. Rather. the emergence of biology. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. a city on the eastern side of Germany. archaeology. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. quite the opposite movement. including. physical chemistry from metaphysics. say. in the sciences. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. in Western esotericism we find. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. explored theology and metaphysics. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. illustration and literature. in the arts. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. our approach being thematic. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. or Aurora. medicine and astrology. the fields of alchemy. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others.
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
” into good Latin from Arabic. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. Indeed.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio.. according to the Fama. generally speaking. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. and why he is called Microcosmos. returns eventually to Germany. R. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. And of course this brief work. like its complement the Confessio. The Rosicrucians’ goal. are to be collected by the wise. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature.”46 When C. in the Orient. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. even if at times such orders did exist. Hermeticism. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. of Christian theosophy as well. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. But in any event. For from the very beginning of the Fama. R. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. like us. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis.” C. Not coincidentally. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. R. R.” These “Books of Nature. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. C. translates the “book M.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. if not universalism. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. and later.. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. Certainly we can agree with Frances Yates’s assessment that Rosicrucian may more wisely be seen historically as describing a particular kind of approach to arcane knowledge than as a specific organized order. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. “or a perfect method of all arts.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). caused a great stir in Europe. The Fama begins by telling the story of C.” however. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. they could collect Librum Naturae. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. and this is the “book M.
as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. sciences. Among other questions. but follow only Christ.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. of eclecticism or universalism. they also made the first part of the book M. 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. the foundations and contents of all faculties. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. a century old. . by four persons only. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . Yet once again. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. “After this manner. The description is often hard to follow. and by them was made the magical language and writing. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. is. . not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. that you could so read in one only book. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. recur as well in the Confessio. wish. and shall be) hath been. . or hope for. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. than that which is the head and sum. undestroyed. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. with a large dictionary . and withal by reading understand and remember. and hidden to the wicked world. like the book. every one with their several figures and sentences. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom.” There is more. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. full of geometric symbolism. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. it is to read the universal book.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. or are able to believe or utter. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. so that no one might later be deceived. called I.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. and arts. belongs to the mind and imagination.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . . first. .” the Fama continues. and come into our brotherhood. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. . as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. and of reading the mysterious book of books.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . are now. Interestingly.
yea. . is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. yet shall we never be manifested . Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. or worse than nothing. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. . From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. and endue them with learning . . and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. of course. and quite probably to Egypt.” Such an idea of a magic language has. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. and writing in a “magic language. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . stretching back at least to the Gnostics. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. a new era for mankind. 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. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. for instance. and have found out. a new language for ourselves. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. without and against the will of God. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing.”55 The implication is that here. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. and made. or sixth age. yea. of course. . for instance. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. All of this. a very long history in the West.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation.”52 “These characters and letters. . 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. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. . metahistorical events at the end of time. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. into all beasts . with the date 1604. and above all. the Bible.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora.
Dee’s Enochian language is important because no less an authority than Frances Yates concluded that the single most important figure in the appearance of early Rosicrucianism is in fact John Dee. Here. on a pansophic mysticism. that is. and it too has been used in magical workings. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. or pansophia. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. R. 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. demons. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. 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. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. Here. brilliant. By 1623. or why. peaceful. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. or intelligences. particularly in France. disappearing around 1620. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. as Frances Yates notes. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. was of a non-sectarian. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. as well as in subsequent literature. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols.” one of the most famous instances of which Dee is responsible for? We might also remark on the history of Rosicrucianism after the publication of the Fama. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. 1604. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. the Confessio. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. The Rosicrucian dream. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. John Dee (1527–1604). and the outrageously baroque. discovered the “Enochian language. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic.’s tomb. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. who.
76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. including. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. derived from alchemy. Ruechlin. various forms of magic. Paracelsus. not specifically Christian. Pansophy. herbalism. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. is universal. 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. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. alchemy. of course. and gnostic. but like Dee. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. We might recall that. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. cabala.. Christian or not. alchemical. It is true that chemistry. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. or magia naturalis. and inquiry into nature more generally. Pansophy as a movement corresponds exactly to this kind of self-placement and synthesis: it is the emergence of a universalist Western esotericism willing to draw on all previous esoteric movements. mechanism. 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. in contrast to theosophy. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . In many respects. magical. The pansophic view. and Michael Maier. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. cabalistic. The most obviously included is natural magic. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). it emphasizes magic. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. 1618)]. and technologism. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. in order to form the basis for a new. healing. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. for instance. often with Kabbalistic influence. which is specifically Christian gnosis.
including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. was published at Altona in 1785–1788.. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. and a series of . The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. magic squares. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. even if it is illicit. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. Metaphysica. et Hyperphysica.A. in later Rosicrucianism. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. as a somewhat medieval figure. Cabball. de La Rose-Croix. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. including sorcery. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. nee non Magia. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. In some respects. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. we tend to think of Faust. Philosophia. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. almost all. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. and much else. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. chiefly under the title Physica. including a French edition titled F. of vast and intricate tables. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. But Chemistry].57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. planetary correspondences. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. D. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common.M. diagrams.O. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. Among the first of these.
O. partaking in both. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D.A. 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. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. in time and in eternity. and with the word Chaos.A.” “Animal Seed. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. in scholastic theology. of its hyperphysical dimensions. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. is an effort to render a mappa mundi.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. the greatest occultist of his day. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. .” “Vegetable Seed. Son. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography.O. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. and Holy Spirit. here we have a different focus. or to Rosicrucianism. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”].M. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. marked also Father. John Dee. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists.” “Heavenly Seed. Here. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. for instance. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. that is. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. of course. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. surrounded by winged angelic forms.” and so forth. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos.” and “Mineral Seed. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. in visual form. for instance. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation.M. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols.
and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. and specifically. invented an industrial process. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. of course. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). originally a scientist. who studied minerology. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. (London: 1665). as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). was John Heydon. in other words. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). not so very long ago. or the Temple of Wisdom. Another such figure. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. and associated with the vast . the arts. not a visionary. theosophic. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. author of such works as Theomagia. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. which. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. the social and political realm. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. unlike these other more individualistic movements. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. science. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. For all of the Rosicrucian. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. but published only in German). One sees this also. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. stretching right into the nineteenth century. truly a Renaissance man. Freemasonry. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. of course. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia.
clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. on which he explicitly drew. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. Fludd. of course. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. and although . Such publication was. the Kabbalah. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. Of course. not surprisingly. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. Martianus Capella and. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. John’s College in Oxford. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. and during this time began work on his major treatises. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. of course. and the sciences. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. Masonry. Jewish. 1617). Plato and the Bible.” published in Leiden. Robert Fludd went to St. Indeed. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. the arts. having received a knighthood for his military service. in 1616 and 1617. Indeed. Like Paracelsus himself. his father. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. 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. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. to a speculative. 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. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. and Rosicrucianism. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. Sir Thomas Fludd. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. but the Freemasons endured the longest. semireligious occult fraternity. 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. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe.
” Elias Ashmole. By the early 1630s. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. . for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. 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. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. 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. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century.”61 But for our purposes. Ashmole. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. born to an aristocratic family. Dr. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. Arthur Dee. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. and assiduous bibliophile. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. But in any event. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. and back to England. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. Dee’s son. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. 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. astrologer. Marin Mersenne. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. Himself an alchemist. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne.60 Then again. John Dee. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole.
an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. and must remain so. . . the real . but they are in any case gnostic. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. was not simply an antiquarian.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. after recording this revelation. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670).62 Backhouse’s father. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. The true name is hidden. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. of course.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. All of this. Samuel. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. using a symbolic metalanguage. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. and John Comenius (1592–1690). meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. never referred to it again. It is significant that Ashmole.64 These three men. of course. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. or as Kabbalistic.”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. when Backhouse thought he was dying. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). and only philosophers of the English Revolution. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. John Dury (1596–1680). . introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. . Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. one could ignore it. except to his own spiritual son.
which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. 2. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. and Mechanical. needless to say. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. But most important for us is the final point. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. Also important here is the third point. 4. . . like the symbolism of alchemy. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. However. . Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. Such a language. 3. according to the Constitutions. and as Edmond Mazet remarks.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . Early in the eighteenth century. The aim of a magical language is. .”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. Philosophicall. 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.” certainly a pansophic goal. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. esoteric: to limit those who understand it.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. Freemasonry. Arts and Sciences. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. . so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. Chymical. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723).
Italy. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. And during this time. Masonic values of rationalism. . the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. including. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. for instance. announced in Ramsay’s oration. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. deism. or ignore esotericism. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. great. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. In it. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. fraternal Freemasonry. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. with its general tendency to reject. Ramsay. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. it is not surprising that this project. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. In this oration. a theosophic circle in London. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. suppress. while publishing numerous books. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. fellow craftsman. 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.68 Within Masonry itself. . became prominent in French Masonry. England. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. On the other hand.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. . who had been initiated into Masonry years before. had an exoteric.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. solid. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. and indeed. excepting only theology and politics. especially in France. nonsectarian basis. especially in England. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). After her death. On the one hand. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. luminous. The work has already been commenced in London. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. and master mason. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years .
”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. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. six for the clergy. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period.” In other words. specifically. based as it is on the craft of building. to wit I am. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. 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. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. Freemasonry. which is as follows: one word for a divine. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. theosophic. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. In other words. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. In the Graham manuscript of 1726. As we have already seen. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. of human and divine architecture both. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. by which. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word.8). even to this day. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. God has sealed the six directions of space. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. Rosicrucian. I answer it was God in six Terminations. and six for the fellow craft. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. that is. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. Indeed. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. .
When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. Kabbalah. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. Finally. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin.” or signature. Here. of course. including alchemy. including humanity). woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. in Western esotericism. and Christian theosophy. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. . One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. nature. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. the theme of our next section. Here. And this role is played out through reading and writing. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. not just as the means of communication among people. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. not consume it. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. 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 cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. Above all. its secret “silable. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. pansophy. For according to Western esotericism generally. What is more. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. but as the actual medium linking humanity. Rosicrucianism.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. magic. Masonry. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. and the divine.
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 ) .
. Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme.).
Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. .).
. Theosophia Revelata.Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme.). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
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 . O p u s M a g o . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph. Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. .
(Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye. .Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .
. O p u s M a g o .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .
otherworldly nature of Collins’s work.Figure 9 Cecil Collins.” 1988. . Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations. and the evocative. “The Music of Dawn.
Figure 10 Cecil Collins. . “Paradise.” 1976.
The Tempest. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. The main character. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Which was to please. And pardoned the deceiver. Now I want Spirits to enforce. the magician Prospero. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill.3 Modern Implications P R O S P E R O ’ S WA N D : M O D E R N E S O T E R I C L I T E R AT U R E In the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. Which is most faint. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. or else my project fails. Or sent to Naples. has brought the play’s action to an end. And what strength I have’s my own.
is a prosaic matter. for most of us. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. Rosicrucianism. Warlick. Initially. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. to the audience. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. To be a vehicle for the right words. it is often inverted and does not . that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. are the magicians. in effect gives his wand to his audience. today. often little more than the accumulation of data. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. Suddenly. letters. to sing or to say into being. there are numbers. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. is to touch the nature of being itself. and freed him. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. where the poet-singer is. standing above a reclining woman. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. In this most magical of plays.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). and Freemasonry. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. pansophy. Let your indulgence set me free. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. having relinquished his magical power. as audience. As you from crimes would pardoned be. In all of these esoteric traditions. to invoke the forces of creation itself. also a magician. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. traditionally. E. for example. That is. for instance. but there is no transference of magical power. To incant is to enchant. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. and words—often Hebrew. Here Prospero. shows a tall. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. Conventionally. by virtue of his skill with words. via the main character. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. Here. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. we realize that we. winged creature in an ornate room. Reading.
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. not only in the case of Ernst. V. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. into the world of French intelligentsia. turning then to H.. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. But his learning is of a particular kind. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. and so I will not discuss them further here. of even greater value is a vertical. the poet H. Milosz traveled widely. It is certainly worth doing. third. as with Yeats or H. and entry. Canticle of Knowledge: O. sometimes more implicitly. After a good education. his mother Jewish.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. more . and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. However. While a broad. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. split further into sections on poetry and prose. sometimes explicitly. Naturally. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. with sections on each of the major currents. as can in fact be said of the works of.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. I will leave such a project for another time. Here. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. D. horizontal survey is of value. to the magical fiction of C. D. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). D. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. secular or not. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. (1886–1961). for instance. more or less. V. during which time his family sold their estate. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. as with Emerson or Rilke. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. S. and perhaps for someone else to do. for instance.
Then. and the dwelling places of spirits. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. .90 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E or less like that of the early T. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. 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. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. and. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. in 1914. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. Goethe. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. Milosz’s poetry. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). for that matter. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. and perhaps remains. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. come to fruition in literary form. These Swedenborg saw. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. a Don Juanesque figure. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. which are what concern us here. hell. he experienced a spiritual illumination. in vision. Not so Milosz. William Blake (1757–1827). who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. of heaven. and Western esotericism in general. Swedenborg was. as he saw it. and both wrote in dry. Kabbalah. in fact. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. also a tactile visionary. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. and became. Among these figures. S. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). One can. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. theosophy.” However. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. create a kind of lineage of such figures. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). Eliot. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories.
n’entendront rien à ces choses. on 14 December 1914. from the cosmos. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. on reçu et savent déjà. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. / Les autres. ayant demandé. as the organizer of archetypes. The canticle continues: “A ceux. summarizing in some respects his life’s work.” telling us that “poetry. to awakening it in his reader. but indeed. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. de science et d’amour. that he anticipated a new poetry. qui. At this juncture. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. knowledge and love.]”7 . / Others. will understand nothing of these things. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. But the poet. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. and like Blake. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. thieves of joy and pain. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). have received and already know. crown of human knowledge. seems called upon. and also prehistory and archaic history.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination.” which. seems bound. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry.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. to join up with ancient teachings. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. les voleurs de douleur et de joie.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. and especially the figures we are discussing here. Cartographers of consciousness. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. the observer looks outward. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. the passionate pursuit of the Real. [For those who. through a new metaphysics. and in particular. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. having asked. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. and especially in Milosz.”6 Thus he addresses his writings not to the present age but to the future reader who will experience this new poetry and synthesis of all the disciplines. astronomy.
” 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].” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes].]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. blood. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. / For these names are neither brothers. those who are not affirmers.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. lumière.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil.”8 This gnostic canticle is.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle.” writing that to understand the origin of language.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. “their substance is nameless.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. ni les fils. 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. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. sang. eau. “meditation on the origin of language. darkness.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. 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. to the initiate. this “situated place. salt. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. earth. sun. ténèbres. as well as the names of metals. but it is not so. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. not like “Patmos. he continues. of course. mais bien les père des objects sensibles.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. light.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. sel.” We think that the sensible world is situated. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. terre. have received. soleil. But characteristically. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . but negators. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. nor sons. water. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. but truly fathers of sensible objects. but living. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. from Pythagoras to Plato. addressed to the latter. are merely thieves of love and knowledge.]”9 In other words. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. In fact. etc. and already know. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs.” Indeed. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg.
. or in Milosz’s words. is the “key to the world of light.]”13 As we might recall. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. of blessing and of desolation. for as he told us before. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. and only describes what he has seen. muet comme le plomb. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme.” Simply that. he calls us to the celestial gold.” “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. he tells us.” There is the earthly gold. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. Milosz tells us again. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. of the primal .]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. he implicates us in the poem. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. 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. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. when Milosz addresses us directly. that is. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. Milosz exultantly writes. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. Milosz speaks to us directly: “Do you feel the most ancient of your memories awakening in you? / I reveal to you here the holy origins of your love of gold. . [truth does not make sacred language lie: . it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . At such points. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. Here. And so it is here. mute as lead. . calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. 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. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. and the gold of celestial memory. a revelation. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. Adam. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. of love and of wrath. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass.” This distinction between truth and lie.
” selfknowing.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity.” those “lands of nocturnal din.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation.” an “eternity of horror. [I am always in the same place. and this is the “solar egg. / étant dans le lieu même. in the visionary writings of Böhme.” “the world of profound. rather.” “immense.]”16 See. of light and darkness. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. Milosz muses on his early poetry.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. Milosz writes.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. different. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. Thus. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. delirious.” We might recall that the mirror. hideux. of those who speak pure language. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. and is the province of those who speak pure language. chaste archetypes. hideous. Luciferic brain].94 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E powers at work in the constant manifestation of existence. for that matter. the only one situated. In the concluding lines of the canticle. wise.”15 Here we find. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. in theosophic tradition. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. différent. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. not light and serenity of recognition. / played with me as a father with his child. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay.]” Then one day.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. / being in place itself. we find a spiritual corporeality.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. and looked behind him. le seul situé. this immense. but “great trials of negation. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. “the Father of Ancients. and a kind of corporeality of language.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum.” and “marrow of iniquity. Milosz tells us. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. innocent.
in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. This poem.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 95 remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. at its end. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. tendres métaux époux.” is unquestionably alchemical. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism.” replies Beatrix.]” . [1775–1802]). the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. and his Hymns to the Night. tender metal partners in marriage. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. again three times. and for our three days to come. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. 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. by the grace of inner vision. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. and since we have now known one another seven years. you speak the truth. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. Beatrix. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. innocents! [The parents sleep there. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. but the descent into immense suffering and privation.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. between the lightworld and the darkworld. is especially of interest to us here. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. et pour nos trois jours à venir. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. I touch your brow. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. let us make the sign. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. le signe! [seven times for the past.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. but refers to an inner alchemy. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. [Dear child. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. Thus the canticle. Qu’ils sont beaux. to “tender metal partners in marriage. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. “Master. trois vois—le signe. je te touche le front. and clothed with the sun.
and black. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. and to its incantory language. he comes back to life. Beatrice.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. “I believe it is.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. is reborn!” Thus once again. leaden and lachrymal. “I see only one. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. charitée.” while the “oil of blind corruption. partaking rather of a heightened. 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. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. The woman in the poem. but the adept replies. woman. The alchemical . the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. you liberate yourself.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. He opens his eyes and is reborn. charity. [Light of gold. Beatrix. white and pale blue. I tell you. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage.]”21 It is. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. tu te délivres.” sinks to the depths. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. [My chains of constellations are broken. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. [It is life liberated. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. The adept watches. and “Lumière de l’or. of course. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. The Master forgives me.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. yellow. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. any more than are those of the adept. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries.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. And in the conclusion of the poem.
: initiate]. a light appears. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown.” a “faithful and pious narrative. in what it reveals. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. by a metallic red-hot egg. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. one senses vast expanses around one. in other words. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. At the same instant. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal.” and that “In the author’s mind. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader.”22 To whom does this legacy belong.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. eventuates in the birth of Christ in the alchemist or adept: all these traditions are brought together in the service of what we may call an Hermetic-alchemical initiatory psychodramatic poem. or rather. perfectly awake. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. rests in a horizontal position. .” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind.” The line is the fourth verse. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. 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. The incantory. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. as unemotional as nature. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. by Milosz. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. oneself.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. then? Undoubtedly. is also to participate in it. the large cloud vanishes. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. after all.
meaning the archetypal realm. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. moving up a little. Without question. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. its brutal mass wars. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. 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. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. referring to the reader as “my son. one may even say. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. at this point.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. its secular hedonism and materialism. he is among the most erudite of poets. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. becomes rounder. yet his erudition. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. though including many great poets. just as he ignores and despises that world. because it springs from this archetypal reality. we must bow down. on which it alights like a crown.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. He insists that in order to understand. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. scientifically. 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. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. thereafter. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience.23 There is still more. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. And authentic literature. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. Milosz . It is perhaps useful.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. stands still. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. and in this there is a kind of reversal. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. Such experience is of the truly situated. that. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal.
from Egypt up to today.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. passing through the Pre-Socratics. Martinez de Pasqually. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. the mystical eighteenth century. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. Claude de Saint Martin.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.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. Plato. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. 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. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. sought in them peace of spirit. the School of Alexandria. Swedenborg.” first with his teacher of Hebrew.” Milosz continued.”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. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star].26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. alias René Descartes. Eugène Ledrain.” 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.” 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. Swedenborg. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. [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. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle.” and . Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem.
if we may coin a word. inside the books of life and of knowledge. the universal regent of faith. Joseph de Maistre. and the true poet. Eliot. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. and Savoy. 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. in 1938. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. In his “Poem of the Arcana. .”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. the visionary poet. S. words. 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.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. Germany. King of the Unified World. my son. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. science. Hiram. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse].” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. as early as 1919. King of the unified world. Milosz held. the books open themselves to him. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. for instance. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. . in short. R. 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. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry.” which are far more extensive than anything T.” in fact. it is not books that we are waiting for. Under the heading “Hiram. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. Le Forestier.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. and art. wrote for his poetry. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. . 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 . Here.
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. “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.’ announce their impending appearance.”32 Here. like spirit and matter. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. who announced a coming millennium. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. aspire to holy unification. especially the dream of a world utopia. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. relatively not distant. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi.”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. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel.” 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. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. alias René Descartes. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. Religion and science. Indeed. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. he brings in the theme that. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. 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. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. like all the continents and all the states of this world. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. as we have seen. He writes that “Today. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore.
Our group will have no more than twelve members. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. de Lubicz. religious. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. the “science of the divine.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. and scientific fusion. I am the enemy of exteriorization. but explicitly Christian. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. not to say grandiosity. moral or social. however. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. as we have seen. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). 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. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. with a white collar. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). And there are numerous other such examples. . most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. author of The Magus. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. The Master alone will wear a red cap. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director.”39 These dreams of universality. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics.”38 Such a group. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. and the arts via religion. the sciences. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. in his work as in his private life. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. Milosz wrote. the other members being his apostles. of course. being the Christ-figure. sought the widest possible range. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time.102 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E from antiquity through such figures as John Scotus Eriugena and Jane Leade to modern authors including Vladimir Solovyov and Nicholas Berdyaev. In his work. For us. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. among them its ritual dress. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. for instance. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. and that he deliberately. in his letter to James Chauvet.” And in his little esoteric group. of political.
Although we here will take our leave of them.’s life and interests. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. through his writing. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. There are.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. we . including such authors as William Butler Yeats. Indeed. H. D. That H. magic. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. D.. little studied in academe. S. but also for the universality of his aims. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. Here. D. However. Indeed. Rosicrucianism. numerology. psychic insights or visions. but toward the future. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. of course. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. not toward the present. astrology. D. the Tarot. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. which outlines the intertwining of H. Charles Williams.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. novels. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. a relatively obscure figure. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. and a new golden age. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. D. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. Like Prospero in his final speech. D. There is in Milosz’s poetry and prose a peculiar hieratic quality and a special relationship to his imagined reader that will inform our final two chapters. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son.’s poetry. today. and essays.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. the poet H. C. In these efforts. D. and Milosz. Lewis. and Kathleen Raine.
the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson.’s early. D. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels.. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands.. by recognizing that H. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook.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. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. overmind. explicitly esoteric book.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. for H. D. D. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. and on the other Margaret Fuller.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns.”41 Although the major works by H. Margaret Fuller. We should begin. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. “The Thistle and the Serpent. astrology. H. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. For it seems clear from her poetry. D.” Albert Gelpi writes that H.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). Likewise. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. D. D. In his introduction to H. a cap of consciousness . Woman in the Nineteenth Century. In Esoteric Origins. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. D. like H. save that in H. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown.’s life it is repeated a number of times.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. mind. D. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. D. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. D. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. D. was fascinated by numerology. But when we begin to look at H. Notes is a very unusual work. as many critics have observed. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. however.
’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. . . like water. a nonsectarian. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. yet make one picture. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. which is possible for all. H. my forehead. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches.’s work has feminist implications. one must. Whatever else we may make of it. or awakening into the overmind. D.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended.” The minds of the lovers unite. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. D. as primary to the true artist. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. . She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. D. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. Without doubt. jelly-fish. a musician. She places gnosis. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. or anemone. I visualise it just as well. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. fluid yet with definite body.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. 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. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality.42 H. She writes that to be a true artist. perceive separately. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. indeed. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. D. engage in a union of love and intellect.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. . with the gulls and the sky and the earth. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. and third is the awakening into the overmind. D.”43 H. contained in a defininte space. H. H. affecting a little my eyes . almost like two lenses. 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. syncretic . she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. second is the life of the intellect. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. The two work separately. now. except through the intellect. She does write about a “vision of the womb. a musician. is a gnostic with a small g. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. Into that over-mind. As we read on through Notes. That overmind seems a cap. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. transparent. It is like a closed sea-plant.
’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. pitiful reticence. unlocked.” She writes. seek. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. of the “alchemist’s secret.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. dare more. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. is a false path. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. D. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work.” we “nameless initiates. seek further. as these entities are “healers. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy.” H. too.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. D. / it unlocks secret doors.” “arrogance. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. reversion of old values. In Notes on Thought and Vision. / born of one mother. boasting.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. she holds. prayer” for healing. .” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton.” mind “floundered. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. devour.” And the section ends with “illusion. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall.” “Tribute to the Angels. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. . Amen. H. spell. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. over-confidence.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. D. madness. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. / companions / of the flame.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. this. All-father. / here is the alchemist’s key.47 In M.”48 All of this suggests that there is . But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. E. was lost in sea-depth.”45 “Amen.” H.106 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gnostic whose primary emphasis is nonsectarian spiritual awakening.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. / oneness lost. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. D.” In the next section. helpers / of the One. the overmind being above it. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. for instance. and H. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity.” here. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. D. She writes “dare. D. Here. In this respect.
”50 Here H.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. too much. too little affirmation. D. but this.” “candle and script and bell. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide.” whose “province is thought. / in the light of what went before. this. D.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. conditioned to hatch butterflies .” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. D. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. little boxes. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. The words themselves may resemble boxes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. artful and curious.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. this passage suggests the complexity. D. continues. too little: I know. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some.” through painting or writing. then writes: We have had too much consecration. “patron of alchemists. cryptograms. devoid of life. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. . D. but also those who come after her. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. . they are anagrams. D. / lead us back to the one-truth. this has been proved heretical.’s invocation of Hermes. illuminate what came after.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. The next work in H. H.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. In a well-known passage. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past. H.” .”49 Thus. symbols of Psyche reborn.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. / re-vivify the eternal verity. / inventive. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment.” “invoke the true-magic. H. I feel the meaning that words hide. she is calling herself to a sacred task.
like a ghost. indivisible Spirit. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. D. after all. recreated by the poet. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. in an old garden-square. reinvoked in a new form. saw. was writing these poems. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. it was an ordinary tree. D. in the high-altar of a ruined building. I testify.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. is attempting in her poetry here.52 These lines reveal many layers. H. the poet must “melt down and integrate. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. the conditions under which. how is it you come so near. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. D. we entered a house through a wall.” but re-awakened. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. so too can the poet be. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. John. H. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. we saw the tree flowering.” One must “reinvoke. the shattered glass of the past. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . D.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. and so too by implication can we be.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). H.
/ it was the Angel which redeemed me. conveyed through the poetry. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. and Trilogy in particular.” This experience “was vision. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. D.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. In H. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. the divine feminine.’s vision. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. symbol of Hermes. Hence H.’s poetry. / the darkness of ignorance. the flowering of the wood. it is happening everywhere. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). This experience. D.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. music could do nothing with it. with Saint Michael.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. . D. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. / it was the Holy Ghost—. In this context. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. H. In it. alluded to. 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.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. and even more overtly. nothing whatever. And this experience is gnosis. / it was a sign. H.’s “Tribute to the Angels. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. . just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. / . the next section is very important. themselves conveyed to the reader through H.’s poetry in general. is a gnosis of the word. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. D. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. D. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . D.
requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. allied to Mercury also. They are not.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. to her astonishment. / out of the cocoon. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. D.” she of the Bona dea. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. D. D. Hermes is the patron of the artist. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. brought into paradise with Christ. D.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa.’s Trilogy. the thief. Rather. and H. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. was a baptized Moravian. and the thief. the butterfly. / who did not forego our heritage” . affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. D.” “she carried a book.’s own heritage. as we will see in more detail shortly. in the context of the three poems together. right into the final poem. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. for H.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new.” And She is also “Psyche. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience.110 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E appearing through Mary and through the ancient goddesses. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed.” This refrain. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. D.. the scribe. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. 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 who has been seen “the world over. and that. the writer. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. D. And She is “Holy Wisdom. the Bible.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. D. Sophianic spirituality was in H.” 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.” “Santa Sophia. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. whether it is con- . under her “drift of veils.” H. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. who is also redeemed. obviously.”56 Sophia herself appears to H.
unabridged version of her novel The Gift. that until 1998. The Gift. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . B. Eliot and W. fear. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. D. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. of mysticism. S. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T.” all are interwoven here. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. I suppose.’s own notes. we must turn to The Gift. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. H. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. complete with H. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. Likewise. Eve and Mary. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. Hermes and Christ. D. H. D. however. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. To understand this mysticism more fully. What is more. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. 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. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. D. D. In her poetry. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. as in the original. and the Trilogy exemplifies this complexity: it is a profoundly evocative collection of poems at whose center is a complex of religious experiences that cannot be understood completely except by recognizing their multivalence. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 111 venient for the reader’s ideology or not.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being.” with the experience of Christ. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. H. H. It is not surprising. like Eliot in his Four Quartets.
In toto. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. in . Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. H. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. H. “Old Father Weiss. Pennsylvania. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. H.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. 1909). Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. her grandmother’s father. 1753). though I must confess. and he was born in Bethlehem. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. Rimius. itself. D. had done her research. 1755). 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. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. 1794). D. In other words. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. cited by H. We can see the extent and depth of H.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. . Rimius’s works. D. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. in her notes.” of the “Arcana. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. was herself a baptized Moravian. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. D. & P. Robinson. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. in the middle of the eighteenth century. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J.” or Jedediah Weiss. H. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. 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. . Linde. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. Pennsylvania. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. especially those now housed at Yale University. 1753). make clear this distinction. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. Mysticism. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. Knapton.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. D. D. D. it was in fact in her blood. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally.”58 About such accusations. D.
and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. it does exist. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. there was no hint of this exoticism. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl.. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. The Moravian Church. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative.”59 There can be no doubt that Zinzendorf himself and his early circle held views that were seen as unacceptable by the German Protestant establishment at Dresden. referring to Father. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. 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. Hilda.” She goes on: . conventionally the church. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. and its doctrines as representing a pure. D. respected and highly respectable.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. and Son. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions.. Mother. We were a small community. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. to initiate the reader. D.” H. The novel. into The Gift. “you just stumble on it. . D. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . writes. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. . writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. 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. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. but also of the older poet H. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. in short. D. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative.
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. But there is more. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. and even here in her narrative. the word stops. later learning it means Island of Wounds). A word opens a door .60 This concept of a word opening a door into the lives of one’s ancestors and into spiritual mysteries is at the very center of The Gift.” The first is when Mamalie. . this is the game I play. in some aspects of the story. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. . Williams called a primula. The other bees have gone. Egyptian . but Hilda (and along with her. The word is like a bee-hive. “Christian had left the Secret with me. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. In chapter 5 of The Gift. These spiritual mysteries are not. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. as some scholars seem to think. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. 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. . considerably more of this theme to unpack. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. it is what the novel does for H. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. but there are no bees in it now. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. “The Secret. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. Then am I for a moment . I mean. . That is how it is. But really “live” it. these are the keys. indeed. cut on a wall at Karnak. men play a greater role than women. Rather. Island of Wonders. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads.” she told Hilda. D. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. . A word opens a door. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . . I am the last bee in the bee-hive. Hilda’s grandmother. Hilda surmises. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. I mean. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. that is why it is so quiet. it is like that little flower that Mrs.
.” “the laughter of leaves. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. was to decide the future of the whole country . The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. This rapport is historically verifiable. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. laughing all the time.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. Hebrew.62 Like the Templars. Pyrlaeus. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. altogether. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. . chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. it was the laughter of the water. but this was untrue. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music.” not just Minne-ha-ha. She and her . “like scales running up and down.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. though. so that “It was laughing. of wind. The most important scene for this gnostic drama.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. kept in a birch-bark case.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. of snow swirling. but all of them.” This scroll. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. said Mamalie. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. this laughter that ran over us. it is not a confabulation of H. in particular the Shawnee. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. though. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples.’s.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. had a name for. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. is not Europe but North America. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. indeed. the answer given by the Spirits.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. D. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. Mamalie continues. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. Greek. done in their picture-writing. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. bore the names of Cammerhof.63 In The Gift. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. According to Mamalie.
was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. and then. or Wounded Island. so that the two of them shared in the original descent of the Holy Spirit just as Hilda was later to share in it through communion with it via what she calls “the Gift. We have been shaken out of our ordinary dimension in time and we have crossed the chasm that divides time from time-out-of-time or from what they call eternity. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans.” 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. decoded it and she played it. And yet in the very final passages. . The Gift. domination.” as “Aryan.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. At the novel’s conclusion. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. And in a subsequent event. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. H. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. Christian Seidel. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. Mamalie. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities.”69 The two worlds have become one. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. even refers to the American David Williamson. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. called “New Gnadenhütten. raining down terror from the skies. D. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. so much so that she never played music again. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. In her notes. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. having “burnt it up. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. in an even more attenuated form. In 1755. Wunden Eiland.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. who was to die at twenty-five. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. those hiding in the attic burned alive. said in her fragmented narrative.
as well as of timelessness and time. 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.V. Her interest in spiritualism. In this context.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. her work suggests that past.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present.’s English present.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. H. But above all. As we have seen. but rather is woven into her entire worldview.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. D. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. H. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. H. the more deeply one looks into her works.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. but as integral to her work. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. H. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. past and present. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. In her profoundly ambitious works. and future continually intermingle. H.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. both poetic and fictional. D.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. not merely as decorations. Indeed. D. . there.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. D.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. for instance. singing of the Wounds. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. present. Likewise. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. In her poetry and fiction. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. D. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. D. Among major twentiethcentury authors.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. one of the original Moravian initiates. and out of which all great work is generated. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it.
’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. After his death. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. but at the same time. late Rome. whom we invoke as Lucifer. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. early seventeenth-century England. to be sure. the Light-bringer.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. We cannot conclude without reference to H. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. D. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. although: I hardly knew my Lord. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. as history tells us. D. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. dynastic Egypt. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. H. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. legendary Provence. parted in the dark. and its implications. as Adam. D. has the same root derivation as Seraph. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. outlined in entirety. H. Lilith. in his pre-Eve manifestation.118 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E she found an esoteric religious perspective that recognized the divine feminine in the form of Sophia. through time—specifically. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. and contemporary London. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. through her fiction and through her poetry. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. but it was only in her later work that we see it. yes. meeting and parting. Elizabeth recalls him to her.71 . Mystery and a portent. The Lucifer-Lilith. true we had met in sudden frenzy. may be Angel or Devil. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. Vale Ave. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism.
D.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. . this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. “the Mystery. I would like to explore not the art of magic. Of course.” the mysteries of the holy well.” and again through it “I had the answer. The dead are living still. Her poetry and her prose. 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. D. taken in toto. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. the Writing. here again “the words laugh. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams.” the holy presences withdraw.’s lifetime of work. . 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. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown.” 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. the “springs gone under the hill.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible. as in poetry.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. Here. and the Scroll. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. / infinity portrayed in simple things.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. But my .” 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.
invokes the Oyéresu.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. R. saying “I have become a bridge. fay or mortal. or pretends to produce. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. what will come of this?” asks Merlin.” “Their naked power. C.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. J. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. S. or Mercury. they will unmake all Middle Earth. an alteration in the Primary World. S.” replies Ransom. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. His main character. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). domination of things and wills. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. “one who by his own will once opened it. R. “That is why they will work only through a man. Here. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. and Charles Williams). R.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. Magic produces.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. as one might imagine.” which might best be translated as “magic. when we turn to actual works. and so forth. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength.” says Ransom.” “Sir. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. R. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. J. Viritrilbia. “The Descent of the Gods.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. Lewis. things are not nearly so clear cut.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. C. here. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. seems reasonable enough in theory.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter.” But later in the same essay. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. it remains distinct from the other two.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. yes. and the descrip- . or Venus. Tolkien. its desire is power in this world. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. 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. Let us take an example. the “true powers of Heaven. John Ransom.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. it is not an art but a technique.
there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. ready to kill. where the invocation has its center. sharp. bright and ruthless. in which none other than the ancient . then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. unmitigated. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers.”80 It is not really possible. . such a distinction does not hold up well at all. They could not bear that it should continue. They were blinded. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. They thought it would burn their bones. They experience “needle-pointed desires. and there we see a “rod of coloured light.” “He would have known sensuously. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. But I would like to step back for a moment from the chapter’s narration and consider again Tolkien’s proposed differentiation between enchantment and magic. calling down the powers. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. sticky gums . scorched. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . until his outraged senses forsook him. here. brisk merriments. In the beginning of the chapter. . . “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. . To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. In this chapter. ready to die. . . and the Blue Room. They could not bear that it should end. . The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative.”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. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. sweet-scented and full of desire. .” the narrator tells us. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. outspeeding light: it was Charity . were it possible.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. 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 . deafened. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive.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. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival.
About Williams’s novels.”81 I cite this prosaic finale precisely because it is so deliberately ordinary: it brings us back completely from the magical atmosphere of the novel’s main body to mundane life. In other words. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. and one with Merlin and Ransom). and the Director (Dr. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. and by its end. Anne’s. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. “Obviously it was high time she went in. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. she sees that clothes are piled inside. The invocation takes place. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. rather like Elijah or King Arthur.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. of course. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. in a “secondary world” of fiction. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. Therefore . In so doing. though one could easily imagine it so. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams.” the seventeenth chapter. one with ordinary people. 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.
and how therefore the reader is in . and decidedly corrupt ones. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . 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. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. . in general. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. in fact.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. By doing so. they unveil the power of archetypes and. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. for instance. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. for in the act of reading. For that. to find out what it was about. they reveal forms of necromancy. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. almost cathartic effect. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. one is also encountering new realms of existence. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. It was not written for its entertainment value. . On the other hand.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. and her observations are revealing. 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. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. 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. In effect they are initiations. Who and what is Lilith.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. not find it very entertaining. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. I have put a great deal into it. I am afraid. 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. I wrote it. [Emphasis added. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. [Emphasis added.
Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. Moon Magic is exemplary of this complementary relationship between the extraordinary events the narrator relates and the matter-of-fact tone in which such events are discussed. and imagined myself speaking to him. In some respects. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. after all. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. 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. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. putting my cards on the table. a shabby. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. The magic worked. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. not surprisingly. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. untidy. but Fortune was. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. for it is effectual. that is to say. She gave rise to the character Lilith. It does not matter to me what it is called. Fortune’s novel. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. badly lit and ill-tended room. magicians call it magic. which is the dark side of the Moon. like all of her . the side She turns away from earth. In the novel’s seventh chapter. who is Moloch. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. and I seemed to be in a strange room. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice.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. I made the astral projection by the usual method. appears clearly in her novels. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing.
”85 And so the book concludes.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion.” 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. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. Rhodes. I was no longer alone.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. . like Taverner. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. “in all things there was a profound difference. a young woman named Ursula . In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. at the end of the story. a fellow named Fouldes. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. but I shared in their life.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. I had passed over into the Unseen. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. After his entry into the Unseen. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. Not only were they alive. 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. Thus Rhodes. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. As a character. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. Rhodes. and many others. Taverner. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. Marius. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. for I was one with them . (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). The Secrets of Dr. . but perhaps most interestingly. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. one will recall. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. for. to “enter the Unseen. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. Holmes. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. 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.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. was consummately the logician.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection.
’ ‘Yes. suddenly. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. banked and double-banked. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. there are also depraved black magicians. breaking the embarrassing silence. broke and starred like a smashed mirror.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels.’ said Brangwyn. In That Hideous Strength. they were getting it in the neck. an experienced magician.’ Brangwyn concluded. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. but also logically. among them men named Frost and Wither. . but then Murchison. and in another moment the room was empty . . He was experienced in dealing with such things. Of the two books. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. The strange.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. . running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. they are without morality. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. Frost and Wither are without mercy.’ replied Murchison. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . such characters are necessary not only dramatically. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. . who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). ‘so that’s that. ‘Well. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. like Astley in The Winged Bull. Then. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. pure selfishness. a bear of a man. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. and. Yet paradoxically. . and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. ‘That is very much that. and her half-brother. The girl he could do nothing for.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. cold and merciless.
S. and thanks to that. In all of the fiction we are considering here.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. helped by appropriate texts. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). at the end of The Secrets of Dr. and Fortune. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. Williams. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. . there are two kinds of magic— black and white—and the dramatic power of these novels emerges from the reader’s initiation into the existence of both. either alone. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . experience of magic. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. in this kind of fiction. Whether or not a disciple has a master. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. or with the help of an initatory. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. Lewis. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe.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. . powers both good and evil. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. Taverner. There is.90 . but that also go beyond seeing into nature. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. But Charles Williams and even C. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. 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 finally the Society of the Inner Light.
for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. 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.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. Such a tension corresponds. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. thoroughly real. Williams. In fact. if we may so put it.” and thus to written works like novels. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. . active imagination is essential. Second. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. 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. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.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. Third.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. then.” What conclusions can we draw. 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. in literary form. Finally. since in the fiction we have been discussing. Indeed.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery.
Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. Thus. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. and his writings reveal in detail his . an important and genuinely original British painter. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. but with the publication of this book. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. but also in Böhmean theosophy.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 129 The authors we have considered here knew or knew of one another. It is in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength that the reader can perhaps most powerfully encounter the transmuting power of artistic beauty expressing ritual magic that. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. held in London’s Tate Gallery. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. indirectly or directly. As we have already seen. and that like his contemporary poet. transcendent and perhaps. angelic realm. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. which is why I have chosen to study them together. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. higher aspects of nature and humanity. 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. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. 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. Collins was a gifted aphorist. Still. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. E. Theosophic illustrations in particular.. there remain fundamental differences. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. in the sense of Rilke. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A.
Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. 1945. A winter of the spirit is over all society. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. I long for my race.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. the contemplative. A frustration of all that which is growing.” or again. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. In “Hymn of Life. [14 January. to come to fruition. Our time denies. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. But you exist. 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. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader.” Ordinary life in the natural world. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. and I know nothing. the human being. is imbued always with spiritual significance. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . and this from a comparatively early period in his work. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. Totnes. I long for my kingdom. and my life with you.” 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. of his solitary walks in the countryside. Denies the artist. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. for Collins. he writes: O holy ones I long for you.’ must make intellectual connections individually. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. I know of your existence. But deep underneath flows the secret stream.95 In 1965. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. denies all who have inward fruit. I remember you. of all that which desires to give. But here I wander. 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. we are all exiles.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. for he must ‘leap the gaps.
Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life.] 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. It can only be known by inner nuance. . the meaning. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization.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. awaken this inner rapport in us. 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. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. in Collins’s view. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. by measurement or analysis.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental.97 Works of art. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. the instrument of art helps to sensitise the interior nature and to continually re-sensitise it when it grows stale and dull in the world of mere existence—the world of repetition. In “Art and Modern Man” he continues to discuss what art is capable of achieving: Art is a realization of what is and not of what appears to be[. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. but only by rapport with those worlds. . For like answers to like and creates actualization . This is the same thing actually. rapport. . by description.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. and the making of money.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. In his essay “Art and Modern Man.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art.
Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. trees.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. widened. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. ‘Everything that lives is holy. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. of mere desires. we have no canonic culture of our own. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. and transmuted. the elements. and that is the eye of the heart. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . canonical religions and ritual. it becomes qualitative. . spiritu- . . in a “time of the apocalypse. in Collins’s view. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent.98 The work of art.” In his final remarks. We live. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. the answer comes back to us from within them. we have communion with it[. But there is something else that has to be opened. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. his inner world. in Collins’s view. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. We are all apt to fall asleep.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[. religious. the unveiling of the atom.’ In other words.” He continues: We now have the possibility of this hidden unity of man’s inner world at last permeating the sphere of the exterior world and transforming it.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. rocks. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. canonic language.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. In the past. the opening of man’s inner nature. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. and what is more. he writes. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil.
M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. like “Angels” (1948). and vibrant color. but that is uplifting and paradisal. and the other with the light. the one with the sword. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. her head bent back and contemplative. hieratic quality.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. dreamlike. an active support. make it bleed. to the left the orb of the sun. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. What we are asked to do in the new age is to understand what the function of art is and to give our support and collaboration to the artist. To gaze at this painting is to . Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. In many of his later paintings. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. landscape is transformed as well. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. landscape. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. by patterns on the limbs and torso. the figures’ eyes are opened. not afraid to wound the heart. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. 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. as in many of his visionary paintings. a union of figure. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. such as “The Invocation” (1944). in “The Invocation. Here. too. Often. Many of these images have a strange. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988).” 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.
dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. and poems that illuminate his paintings. In another book. and indeed. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. Here.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. . D. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit.’ sacred images. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. . of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future.. so that God becomes a table. In all of these works.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. we then have ‘sacred space. In this respect. chair. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. Meditations. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. Indeed. D. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal.. H. his drawings. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. he offers through his paintings. Collins wrote in this book. aphorisms. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. Poems. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. Lost paradise and . of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. or altar. that like Milosz. not least because his work includes not only images. but central. Divine Reality. by which we make contact with reality through images . but also essays.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. And it is also clear. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). like an electrical transformer. But Collins offers these through visual images. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. in Collins’s view. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. as in the works of Milosz and H. a world between us and it. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. he is like very few other painters. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment.
although they may contain an element of play. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. as a means of transmitting knowledge. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. First. or way of negation. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. science. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. and the via negativa. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. or mere entertainment. these are the themes of these great artists. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. and awakening gnosis. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. For in our overview of Western esotericism. what we find is in fact the via negativa. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. for instance. but rather. the way of images and forms and transformations. Strictly speaking. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. or way of affirmation. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. It is. Thus our third point: that . and the arts in written form. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. as Dionysius himself points out. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. of course. to the conjunction of spirituality.
and the divine. Here is the essential division between a modern. Ideas. chemistry. works only by reference to this third element. and there is sheer transcendence. But in Western esoteric traditions. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. there is only the division between self and other.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. or Symbols. Rather. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos.’ quantifiable knowledge. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. ‘third element.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. sometimes called by Böhme the . And Western esoteric literature. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. the divine. In modern education. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. hidden. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. Western esoteric traditions. sociology. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. history. and so on. the cosmos. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. between the human and natural realms. geology. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. In a modern worldview.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. D. between humanity and the cosmos.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms.’ the divine. psychology. plant extracts. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. on the other hand.
what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. In all of these traditions. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. Rosicrucianism. and a chemist. for all three of these poets. and by others the Nothing. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. and literary expression. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. often seen as androgynous. an artist. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. the absolute unity of subject and object. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. in this worldview. a theologian. a mythologist. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. Thus the artist. cosmology. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. In brief. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. The aim of the esoteric . first. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. by definition a ‘seer. theosophy. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. and his fall from paradise. but nothing. is in fact prophetic. a divine mathematics. in order to create. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. or Fullness. alchemy. For the purpose of such literature is. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. This archetypal realm. meaning by that not absence. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. biology. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. or any of the other major esoteric currents. we find a divine art and a divine science. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. The artist. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. Adam. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats.
is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. Rosicrucian. for instance. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. theosophic. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. pansophic. and Masonic illustrations. 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. temurah. contains some secret of wisdom. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing .138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation.’”102 Likewise. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. even from a single letter. where it arguably sparked the entire . . In this perspective. or a pansoph. a theosopher. Hence. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. Such a myth of universal fall and restoration also implies that behind the Babel of modern human languages lies a universal language that belongs to paradisal humanity. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. . an alchemist. magical. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. and notarikon.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. whether a Kabbalist. the language of creation itself. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. which is to say. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. 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. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. author of The Magus.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. almost always denoting divinity. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice.
but certainly it is evident that this is an extension of a fundamental theme that runs through the whole of Western esotericism as it emerges in literary and artistic forms. following the various currents through Kabbalism. Social Realism. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. influenced much of modern Russian literature. Futurism. magic. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. 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.” or the “Book of Life”. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. it may be the “Book of Nature. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. 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. when surveying the various esoteric currents. .” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. consequently. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry.” or the “Book of Revelation. 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 her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.104 Obviously. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. . in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. certainly it may be the Christian . and especially of written language and of the book. and Masonry. generally speaking . Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and. theosophy.
who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. Islam. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. and Geber. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. and so on back into antiquity. or nonexistent. but rather relied upon the written word. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. where the tradition . and indeed even farther back. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. Even in the case of alchemy. interrupted. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. 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. and what is more. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. Indeed.140 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Bible or the Jewish Talmud or the Islamic Koran. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. Given our overview. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. much less in Christianity specifically. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. or masters. 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. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. In Hinduism or Buddhism. 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. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. However. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. which indeed still finds them audiences today. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. gurus. or in Buddhism. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. Hermes. for instance.
for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. to some future initiate in a far century. when we look at the writing of Milosz. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs.’ a means of conveying ‘information. for in all cases. dreamlike language and imagery. often strikingly beautiful. Indeed. and in particular at its strange. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. These illustrations. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. That is to say. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. whatever one . who. Christian theosophic literature. initiatory. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. of Abraham Abulafia. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination.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. Somehow. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. Such evocation is. naturally. V Milosz. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. may think of his poetry. I believe.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. are not simply decorations. Let us take another example. particularly the works of Böhme. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. Milosz. One thinks here. 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. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. In modern parlance. hieratic. but . but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. By contrast. in addressing this far-off “son. Such a view of the written word is. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. of course. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. have been adorned with copious illustrations. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. but who rather offered the world only written works. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose.’ or ‘data’. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function.
the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. represented by a cross.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. and flower in the reader too. 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. In my view. so there is no need here to repeat myself.106 To explain this phenomenon. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. Obviously. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. theosophic. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. grow. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. it is more immediate and visceral. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. Taken together. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. What is more. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. Such an illustration. tending. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. and over time those seeds can take root. This metaphor—of sowing. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. the dark-world of hell. pansophic. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. reaping. marked also “Sophia. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. the lightworld of paradise.” or Wisdom. For instance. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. which refers to . for instance. I use the term ahistorical continuity. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. through the turbulence of earthly life. by gazing at such an image. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. Rather. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. In this way. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. does have an initiatic function—that is. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. that is. in other words.
who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. one might even say impossible. Naturally. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. or a biology textbook. instead. Here. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. and are in earnest. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit.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. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. you truly will know its worth. and who have a desire to begin. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. for example. Thus. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. as I am suggesting. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. If. Perhaps. Such a paradigm can be reawakened.’ a becoming familiar and even intimate with his language and vision until his unusual terminology and ways of expression become part of one’s inner landscape and view of the world. . . it can reëmerge in another. if you wish to use this little book aright. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. leave untouched the precious Names of God . although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. this function must be a change in consciousness. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. 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. the daily news. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. Such a reader joins with the author. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. 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. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. After all. 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. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book.
we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. it walks in its own delusion. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division.” or objectified realm. . to become a channel for the divine current. in his “Warning to the Reader.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. Then that thing.” “Be rightly warned. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. and for when one rises. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. and become not its own possession. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. this objectifying delusion. the source from which they emerge. so that consciousness shifts to awareness.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. a prayer for one’s daily work.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. or has knowledge-of. and experience the divine directly. not by merely mouthing the words. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. which it sees as divine. he tells us. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious.” If on the one hand. and a prayer before sleep. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. and so on for the entire week. but the “instrument of God. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. a prayer for the evening.”107 Or again. but. 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. a prayer for noon. and second. a prayer for washing and dressing. judgemental consciousness. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. one automatically is caught in delusion.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose.
This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. Indeed.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. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. in other words. There is simply awareness. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. we have the point of origin. between the divine and the natural. in the archetypal realm there 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. then language must reflect this division. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. Above. at the far limit of what we can express in language. in Western esotericism generally. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. Here we are. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. For language is in its innermost nature divine. as we have seen. There emerges a spacious or open quality. the light and the dark. divine in its origin. or subject and object. but of the cosmos itself. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. or the divine eye that sees itself. or perceiver and what is perceived. in that there remains an observer. the self in one sense continues to exist. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. 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. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. or divided from the divine. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. of course. conversely. the yes and the no. the origin not only of language. as are nature and humanity. just as. there is no sense of separation between self and other. love and wrath. In other words. although there are divisions between archetypes. where.
in these esoteric traditions. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. suppression. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. the divine is perforce unmentionable. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. consumerist state was built from a materialist. but never owned. and so forth. But by the late twentieth century. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. 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. Undoubtedly. and objectified worldview. Language. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. For Western esotericism. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. By contrast. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. nature.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. which is rife with the language of objectification. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. During this . any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. in modern literary theory or theories of language. for after all. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. and the divine. and the participatory. transformative. or separation into self and other. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. secular. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. 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. secular. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. or manifest more indirectly in literature. The massive machine of the modern technological.
Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. and the arts. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. As we have seen throughout this study. L I T E R AT U R E . Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. religion. troubadours and chivalry. too. including elements of the sciences. after all that we have surveyed. If so. at least for some. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. magic or theosophy. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. nature. but also for society itself. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . But to begin to explore this new. inner territory. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. psychology. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. the Lullian art. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. and on the other the burgeoning interest in Asian meditation practices—it would not be surprising if one also found the time ripe for a rediscovery of the Western esoteric traditions. which is to say. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. to name only a few. and the divine. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. To this we now turn.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. Buddhism. scientific or otherwise. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. in theosophic works. in particular. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. of awakening latent. A R T. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. profound connections between humanity. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions.
To use Plato’s metaphor. ascends to “that high state where. E. A. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. joys. at this juncture. as we have seen. 1867–1935). where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. 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 . here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. E. 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. The poet’s psyche. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. but of reality. as the seers tell us. E. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. Naturally. It may be of use. he tells us. and the divine. he simply began to murmur line after line. to write presupposes already having seen. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. (George William Russell. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. and indeed.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. Indeed. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. But A. found throughout Western history. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. to turn to a poet. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong.”111 Unconscious of creation. nature. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. In this view. 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. images. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. a friend of Yeats. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. . of charged and living images once associated with the gods. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. In this esoteric view of literature. In his book Song and Its Fountains. beyond history. A. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. . not the life of shadows. . but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. A. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. rejoicings. E.
though too often they have not kept faith . he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. E. Yet A. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. A. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. the creation of poetry in A. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives.”113 This movement of consciousness A. Yeats. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. E. from a descent after an ascent. even if unaware of precisely how or why. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. A. E. but all was a motion in deep being. and after that images. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. recognized his limits. was later translated into words.” he wrote. 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.”116 Still.” he wrote. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when.”115 He understood something of the psyche. E. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. A.” Thus. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. E.”114 A far exile from that glory.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. perhaps surprisingly. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. gone inward into itself. There was neither sight nor sound. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. “I have. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. but of the universal spirit he understood little.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. the poet. later discussed with W. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. B. it draws nigh to its own divine root. E. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. and song. analyzes the movement of consciousness. looks upon the poet as a prophet. A.”117 For this reason. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. “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. E.
E. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. And A. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. for instance. . which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. as did the sybils of old. E. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told.” The psyche. .”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. Throughout our investigations. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. they come “trailing clouds of glory. 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. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. and they wove into drama or fiction. characters they had never met in life. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. But at times they still receive the oracles. Thomas Bromley. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. when it becomes truly self-conscious. the further we come out of the animal Nature.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . the view of literary creation that A. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. E. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. 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. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. In Christian theosophy. may. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos.” And there is more.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. without knowing it. A. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. In essence. in that solitude we may meet multitude. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. or division into self and other. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. when we seem most alone.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves.”121 These insights of A. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. E. . tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl.
Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. in between both author and reader. fiction. passive. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. the poet is more like a receiver. in A. 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. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. more powerful. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. and taken on a kind of life of its own. One becomes what one sees. like theater. and so requires our sympathetic participation. Likewise. Of course. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. or drama. symbols. E. and we must. In this realm. by A. the author also is not directly present. which no earthly Distance can hinder. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. a novel. and the world is shot through with light. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. We are carried along on the words of the author. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. as if we knew them as neighbors. and experiences. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or .”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. In the first case. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. the book or work has been separated from its writer. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. and nearer both to Heaven. at least temporarily. absorbed completely in a book. or of Captain Ahab. One experiences great bliss. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. But nonetheless. E. in the latter case. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. on the other a visionary poet. there also is participation in what is observed. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. Reading. and between the models that they represent. although there is still an observer and what is observed. for instance.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. events. E. which later emerge in poetry. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. as if by happenstance. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. irrespective of time or distance—and A. In Bromley’s case. and to one another in the Internal. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. For who. say. where. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives.’s case.
writing. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. in alchemical work. playing for keeps. and one has entered a new world. By contrast. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. and in Kabbalistic practice. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. 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. habitual self is gone. or to have it stricken. The difference. presumably. Of course. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. and books. magic is real. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. 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. For when a reader engages in a literary work. drama. between studying a work of literature or of art on the one hand and these forms of esotericism on the other is that the effects of reading a work of literature are limited: one is imaginatively engaged. we might reverse the terms. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. essays. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. whereas the esotericist is. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. . symbolizes eternal conditions. the visions of the theosophers are real. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. existing in a supraphysical dimension. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. Perhaps.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. but eventually puts the book down. fiction. We see this in the Book of Revelation. for example. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. And indeed. and one enters into the new birth. one could argue that what is ‘other’ in visionary experiences like those alluded to by Bromley is in fact merely a psychological projection of the ego. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. Ordinary. one turns away from the painting. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. our authors tell us. of course.
But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. Yet at the same time. Nicholas . Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. the gnostic. Secret Societies. lives on. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. But fundamental questions remain. John Pordage. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. Jacob Böhme. the Kabbalist. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. is to attain paradisal immortality. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. gnostics. Ramon Lull. Meister Eckhart. Johannes Tauler. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. in the process of creating a fictional world. or Kabbalists—by self-election. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. but what came into existence through him. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. Jane Leade. 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. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. R. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. If a primary aim of the alchemist. and may even connect profoundly with each other. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. R. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. the Kabbalist.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 153 Yet it may be that the two versions of the game remain essentially similar. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. the alchemist. but there is much more to be done. Abraham Abulafia. their works like second nature. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. Thomas Bromley. the literary work. fiction.
esoteric or not.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. and consciousness. and indeed even God himself. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. precedes all being. moreover. but in every case. in the . a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. Berdyaev tells us. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. There are two philosophers whose work is of special value for us in considering the place of the Western esoteric traditions in this larger context: Nicholas Berdyaev (1874–1948) and Nishitani Keiji (1900–1990). help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. 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. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. literature. to be guided by the author. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work.” It may well be. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. to in Emerson’s words. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. taken together. the author is reaching out. for as I have discussed elsewhere.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. “add it to his own arsenal of power. therefore. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. 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.124 The Ungrund. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. In being. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme.
and its expression in human creativity. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. the artist. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. “Creative activity. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. the artist. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. fictional. issues from existential eternity. 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. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. Nishitani Keiji. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions.” and “is the beginning of a different world. As Berdyaev points out. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. and therefore of division. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. or to put it another way. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. “it is an end of this world. particularly the arts of literature. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. of creativity. It is knowledge. and especially on the .” he writes. a different sort of knowledge.
or rather in unison. Out of this transcendence alone. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. what is the same thing. While this is our own act.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. . The force of destiny is at work here. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. emerges authentic freedom.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . “an equality in love. and has the effect not of separating. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. is beyond definition. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. that is. or “true emptiness. or perhaps better still. Nishitani affirms. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. . and us from them. As we have seen throughout this study.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. . . As rational or personal beings.”128 True emptiness. for faced with nihility. In Nishitani’s work. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. or the emptiness of all things. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. in other words. the choices of the will. of course. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. one retreats into self even further. self-identically. . it is not something we are free to do as we please . Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. self-centered consciousness. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. This intensifies our narcissism. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself .”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. Nishitani. . What . This is the field of shunyata. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved.” an “absolute openness. and indeed.” Authentic freedom is.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. egoistic mode of being. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond.
so Western esotericism suggests. have at their center this mystery of the word. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. . a calling toward what we are meant to be. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. political.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. as the sense of self and other diminishes. Paradoxically.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. including paintings. with nature. joined together with one another. seen as a whole. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. anything that can be read or written. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. It can lead us. We read and are read. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. But in any case. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. language is indeed divine. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. The Western esoteric traditions. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. write and are written. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. for all their diversity. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. or even linguistic construction. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take.
Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. in this field. 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. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism.aseweb. See also the journal Esoterica [www.msu.esoteric. including Wouter Hanegraaff. ibid. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. 3. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. ed. 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. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. 2. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www.org.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II.msu.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. Faivre.esoteric. For an overview of Western esotericism. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. a Dutch scholar. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. See Hanegraaff. 1994). 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents.edu. mostly by North American scholars. much of it in French. the official Web site of the ASE. 159 . 4.. 5. see Antoine Faivre. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. See www.edu ] for articles. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. 1992). See Steven Katz. See Arthur Versluis.
1999). 1965). and Mysteries (New York: Harper.. 1863). ed. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. 223. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 3. 18 ff. See Faivre. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. See Frederick Goldin. 145. E. CHAPTER TWO 1. 309. 4. op. 4. p. Dreams. 5. Peers. Mircea Eliade. pp. See Versluis. Paragon House. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. (London: Sheldon. 180. pp. p. 83 ff. p. 2000). 97. 6. 1974). in Arthur Versluis. 8. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. 7. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. Ramon Lull. 2. pp. . 111. 12. Paul: Grail. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. whether they know it or not. p. 9. CHAPTER ONE 1. pp. 1973). 219–233. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. 140. pp. Jean La Fontaine. 1975).” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. p. John Pordage. See Gershom Scholem. 37 ff. See. See ibid. Paul.. 1991). p. Paul: Grail. cit. p. 76–106. See Versluis. 2000). Myths. 1986). pp. pp. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. trs. 3. Ibid. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 13. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. 2. 151. 10–15. Translation is mine. Victor Sogen Hori. 2000). Sophia. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. p.. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. See Arthur Versluis. Nag Hammadi Library. 14. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. See Charbonneau. see also Scholem. pp. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. p. eds. 10. 1978). “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. 11. 1992). “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. 307. 5.. 1996). see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. 51–89. Gnosis and Literature (St.. 248. 14–21. Paul: Paragon House. pp. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Nag Hammadi Library. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press.. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press.
28. p. trs.. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. 1964). 59. Ibid. 14. Origins.. Vasoli. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. trs. I. p. eds.320–323. See A. p. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ed. 32.77. p. 49–50.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. 1969). Scholem.71. 29. 1988). Ibid.205b–206a.76. 270. Origins. 16..B. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. p.314.. Ibid. 1961). 197. 1983). I. cit. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. Ibid. I. p. Ibid. and Françoise Secret. 1986).. 9.. 26. 1779). Twersky. 394. op. 250. See. Bonner. for instance.. (Hildesheim: Olms. 1985). See Arthur Edward Waite. 280. See Pico della Mirandola. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 66.C.205b. See Verman. 1953) I. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. See J. Ibid. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins.. in The Zohar. 1984). Opera omnia. ed. Dan. 37. ed. 36. Doctor Illuminatus. 34. cit. Ibid.. p. 24. See Mark Verman. See Moshe Idel. Origins. p. 1987). op. p.. 51. Cassirer.. 52. II. 18. 31. 29. p. 1992). Tristan. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. Ibid. I. See Scholem. et al.75. see also Scholem. ed. 8. 57. op.. 1965).. 278. Cassirer. M. 57. Gershom Scholem. Ibid. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. p. ed.. 61.80 ff. 38. 101–102. Ibid. Ibid.. 23.312. cit. 1979). II. 10. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. Ibid.. p.. p. 12. 246. pp. 19. 21. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. 17. 22. 35. p. p. 27. (London: Soncino. 13.. I. 30. 197.331. 11. Ibid.. p. 7. II. 15. A. 20. I. Simon.. . Ibid. Zohar IV . 298 ff. II. p. Ibid.. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod.. IV . see also Moshe Idel. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. See Verman. C. I. pp.325. 25. 33. Joseph Blau.351.
Secret Societies. . Ibid. . Ibid. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates.. forthcoming. See. 221. 1615). especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. cit. a cosmologist. 50.. 252. I have translated this work of Pordage. C. 242.681. 51. Josten. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. 1975). Resicrucian Enlightenment. D. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. 1988). and others. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. Ibid.. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. ms. 44.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. 220. 59. 255. 1972). The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. See also Marsha Schuchard. 1966). 1999). The Alchemy of Art. 77. and also written an extensive commentary on it. op. 246. 56. Fama. .. 47. 1998). ed. p. 49. Yates. p. See Versluis. table of contents. p. Ibid. Fama. p. Confessio. p.. 53.. 257. 46. Frances Yates. and even chart them astrologically.. a musician. H. From von Welling. 41. See Frances Yates. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. 251. The following page references are to Yates. 22. 45. for background. p. p.A. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. a theologian.M. Ibid.O. p. p. including two physicists. Theatre of the World. (Cassel: Wessel. Ashmole. Ibid. Confessio. M. 52. p. . Ibid. 42.D. p. 40.. 48. Confessio. Fama. for the reader’s convenience. ..O.102–104. 129... Ibid. 1997). The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill.A.. p.77. 241. I. p. 238. See. 54.. 37. 49. Ibid. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. 253. p. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. p. 63. p. in a group called the Round Table. II. 371.P. Ashmole. Ibid. 62. William Huffman.. See Versluis. 60. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research.. p. Hall. 43. for text. 55. See Versluis. Ibid.. 1784). 57. Confessio. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . ed. see Donald Dickson. p. 61. See Josten. Ibid. 67. 260. Fama. Freemasonry. der gantzen weiten welt .. diss. Ibid. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. (Cassel: Wessel. p. 1971). I.M. University of Texas at Austin. 58.
A. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. p. 414. 417. See also Schuchard. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. p. pp. . (London [Philadelphia]: B. E. ed. 162–168. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. See M. 4.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. See James Anderson. 9. 11. 253.. 1997). 1967). 68. Ibid. p. Ibid. p. Hugh Trevor-Roper. see Versluis. S. . Revolution and Freemasonry.. pp. Brown. pp. 3. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. Freemasonry. 2. pp.. p. 2001). M. and Albert Cherél. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. See Edmond Mazet. Sloane. pp. 110. 170–171. D. On Emerson and Hermeticism. CHAPTER THREE 1. See also Bernard Fay. . 191... pp. 654. 170–171. 256. ed. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. 39. 1952). 257–272. and Margaret Bailey. 268. 8. Paul: Grail. 65. See Dickson. 1948). changes. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill.. Charge I. Ibid. the Reformation. 69. 10. 1926). p. 1935). 172–173. 1997). Mazet. 71. regulations . The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. See George David Henderson. pp. . (New York: Crossroad. citing B. p. p. 240. p. 2002). O. 409. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. see also Max Ernst. 7. Ibid. H. 1992). Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. Ibid. 1985). 1734). 66–67. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. 67. 5. M. Faivre. p. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson.. Franklin. Ibid. Ibid. 66. 70.” 99–134. V de L. 1992). 247–249. op. 6. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. Religion.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. Warlick. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. Milosz.. cit. Ibid. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn.
p. 17. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p.. cit. 13. Milosz. 21. Lib.. pp.. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. 33. 455. p. pp. see Versluis. I. pp. For a more extensive study. 158).. 210–211. 28. 1989).. cit. 464. p.. Milosz. 1996). Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. 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. See W. 25. pp. 26.. 19. pp. 34. 469. op. 18. . hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . 48–52. 20. D.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. 29.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. Ibid.. 1994). pp. p. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 277. Milosz. 30. 1985)... 8–9. Ibid. pp. Ibid. Ibid. 303. H.. 37.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. D. p. of course. Ibid. The question. 27. Ibid. For the poet of the modernist era. Milosz. op. introduction by Albert Gelpi.. see Steven Bullock. Ibid.115. ed.. 299–300. 41.. 1982). 22. Ibid. Ibid.. Susan Friedman.. pp... 204–205. 297–298. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. pp. 14. 23. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. 178–179. 226–227. 206–207. trs. pp. 24. 299. Ibid. See Versluis. 300. 39. 157–206. 2001). Ibid. Ibid. pp.1 ff. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. 174–175. Ibid. p. 36. I. p.. p. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. 465. Scott. Ibid. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. Ibid. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. 248. Friedman writes that “From her [H. pp. 15. 224–225. Ibid. 296.’s] perspective. 180–181. 40. 31. 32. pp. p. D. Ibid. . The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 1981).. op. 16. 35. cit. 182–183. 38. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. Ibid. See Versluis. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press.. pp. Ibid. p. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. .. Ibid.
. 1998).. See Jane Augustine. 1967). p. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 70. “Notes. Ibid. See H. 55. 70. 72. rpt. 1988). The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida.. 48. Ibid. See H. 59. D. 67.. 35. 9. as well as this entire collection of articles. 63. p. 73. Ibid. 53. 62. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. “The Walls Do Not Fall.. Ibid. Ibid. 39. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 64.. 33. p. 56. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. Ibid. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. 23. Ibid. 19. 52.. ed. 18..” 30–31. pp. 1997). Ibid. see also. pp. 154–155. Ibid.. 58. D. p. The Gift. 51. 168. 65. for documentation. p. D. p. D. 225–246. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. Ibid. Ibid.” 1. Ibid.” on which see TG. Social Realism” in B. Ibid. “Tribute to the Angels. Ibid. Rimius. p. H. 57. 1. 66.. hereafter cited as TG. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ed. E. H.” 17. 223. 49. p. of course. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). and I certainly recommend her article. 222. 157. 20.. 169. 29. 32.. Rosenthal. 47. chief among them Gustav Meyrink... Ibid. The Gift. 69. 60. pp.. D. 46. Ibid. Ibid.. Ibid. Ibid. 13. Warlick. There are... p. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 45. 24. 50. 102. p. D. Irina Gutkin. D. other authors we could consider here. Ibid.. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . 54. 259. H... 156–159. p.” pp.. 165. “Walls. H. Ibid.. 17–19. 43.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42.. 21. See M. Kraus. 1989). Ibid. 284–285. 66. 2001). Futurism. 61. These passages were transcribed by H.. 71. 68. 75. Kathleen Raine.. 20. 67. 44. See. 50. 21. 74... 271–272.. Georg Heinrich Loskiel.. pp. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. p. 50–51.
Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). 96. 197. 84. Ellis and W. Ibid. 89. Ibid. 154. 101. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza.. p. Ibid. 102. S. 99. pp. 97. 322. 40. 112. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. 100. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 79. 1994) p. 127. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England.. Vision. 78. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. p. 82. 82–83. See on this point. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed... including Fortune’s. op... Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. p. cit. Ibid. Fortune. See for instance. 320. p.25. 1990). 76. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. The Magical World of the Inklings. Faivre. 291. p. 239. Gareth Knight.. Collins.. pp. 1994). The Works of William Blake. p. p. 124–125. 95. Vision.d. 87. 21. Poems. p. 81. Dion Fortune. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. Ibid. 1993). 98. p. Ibid. E. Ibid. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. p.). See Collins. 88. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. B. . 93. Ibid. Ibid.. and Meditations. 40. 101. 70–71.. retained his magical regalia in his office. ed.. p. 1994). (London: Quaritch.. Dion Fortune. Ibid. 87. Ibid. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press.. 382. 43. Lewis. Letters from England (London: Longman. C.). p. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. op. The Secrets of Dr. pp. 103. Lewis. 104–104. 94. Southey. 1893). 92. 10. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. p. noted hereafter as Vision. 91. Collins. 95. p. 102. S. Faivre..166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). 3 vols. 91. 1997). Gareth Knight. so I have decided not to include them here.. p.. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. 323. I. 77. cit. 1814). p. p. p. pp. op. p.. 20–21. 80. 115. pp. See Antoine Faivre. Dion Fortune. 85. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. 1988) p. 83. Ibid. 90. C. Ibid. cit. 88. hereafter noted as Meditations. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. n. 86.. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. Meditations. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. Yeats.
Ibid.1.” 108. ed. p. 125. 109.29–30. I added the colors. 1991). Ibid. 225. p. Ibid.. 1978).. p. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 121. 1980).NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. I. p.D. forthcoming... 127. 275 ff.. 106. p.. Ibid. 119. pp. Ibid.31. Diss. 63.. 199. Knapp. 62.. Nishitani Keiji. 116.1 ff. “Vorrede. 78. pp. 130. 71 ff. Ibid. pp. Nicholas Berdyaev. 113. See Charles C. p. 123. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.. Ibid. 128. Rosenthal. Versluis.. trs. p. 170. 95.” and I. 194 ff. 106. See.. 94. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press.. Ibid. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th... Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 39. 111. 129. 107. 122. p. 118. p. 114. 62–63. 117. Ibid.. 74. p. for example. Christosophia. 25 ff. . 105. Ibid. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Socialist Realism. IV . A. 120. Christosophia IV . Freedom and the Spirit.” in B. E. 124.. p. 126. 103. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.. 1994). 285. pp. Ibid. Futurism. 115. 112. Ibid. 110. Ibid. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. 40.31. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. Peter Erb.. Ibid. II. 40 and pp. 1957). 93. p. Toronto: 1948). 1958). Irina Gutkin. 105. p. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. See Versluis. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism.. p. Ibid. 1997) p. Ibid. p. 108 ff. p. pp. “Warnung an den Leser.. See also The Destiny of Man.
17 Blake. 56 Baader.. Jacob. 96 Berdyaev. 96 Dee. initiatory nature of. 94. Henry. Franz von. 78. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 82–83 169 . John. Moses. Geoffrey. 59. 148 Barrett. 141–142. 81–82 Dee. 47. Arthur. 4. 94. 75. 139. John. William. 61–62. 53 A. 18. 81 Bruno. Cecil. Heinrich Cornelius. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 154 Book of Life. Francis. 80–82 Astrology. 140. 51. 142. 76 Buddhism. Tibetan. 147 Buddhism. Emily. 129–135 Comenius. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 82 Bacon. Abraham. 72 Consciousness. 154 Dogen. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 81–82 Descartes. 5. 28. 40 Bible. 14. 30. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 10. 63. 28–29. 27–28. 64. 93. 1 Collins. 68. William. Thomas. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 22 Cordovero. 138 Basilides. 137 Boethius. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 81.INDEX Abulafia. 45 Chaucer. 24. Giordano. 97. 79 Backhouse. 80 Böhme. 53.E. 129. 150 Browne. 31. 57 Beatrice. 63 Anderson. 35–43. 11 Dury. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 2 Aurea Catena. 28. 2. 97 Cremer. 56 Art. 55–67. Abbot. 80. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 53. 99 Dickinson. 52. 75 Chivalry. 66 Corbin. 59 Dante. 1. 56 Amor Proximi. Elias. 90. 24. 141 Agrippa. James. ix. 20. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 95. Tycho. 152 Brahe. 93. 5. 148–150 Alchemy. 78. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 42. René. 40–41. Nicholas. 46 Christ. 129. 25 Apuleius. 89. Sir Thomas. 5. 143–144. 56 Bahir. 28. 102. 57. John. Roger. 68–71. 25 Ashmole. 77 Bromley.
120–122. Friedrich von [Novalis]. Johann Georg. Désirée. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. Martin. 106 Eschenbach. 75. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 123–126. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. Jean. 63. 111 Emerson. 140 Hippolytus. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 72–73 Faust. 4. 88-89. 77 Gelpi. Rulman. 83. 28. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 19. 26–31. 21 Heydon. 7–8. 101 Freemasonry. Dion. 19–21. 103. 139 H. 44. Abraham von. 100. Jewish. 7–8 Esotericism. 111 Esotericism [defined]. Albert. 99 Grail cycle. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. Max. 140 La Fontaine. 112 Imagination. Brian. ix. 35. 122 Koan. 100 Hirst. Antoine. 52–54 Kabbalah. 90.. 104. 65. Edmond. 21.. 79–86. 50. Book of. 104. 8–9 Larronde. 105. 127 Frankenberg. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 82 Knight. 2. John. 27–28 Gnosticism. 129 Kelley.D. Steven. Joseph Edward. 95 Hartlib. 138 Katz. Francis. 97. Andreas. 89. 78 Gnosis. 2. 104 Gichtel. Johannes. C. Jane. 102 Ernst. Michael. 25 John. 31 Melville. 68. 53. 127 Loskiel. 57 Eleazar of Worms. Carlos. Irina. 55 Koran. 22–24 Initiation. Robert. 19.. 120. 1. John Scotus. 103–119 Hardenberg. Mircea. Wolfram von. 105 Eliade. 2. 57–59. 69 Franklin. 89. 56 Fludd. 102 Lee. 29 Mazet. 22. Johann Wolfgang. 112 Friedman. 18–21. 109 Hermeticism. 11 Hutton. 5 Hori. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 107. 19 Faivre. 153–154 Eriugena. Christian.170 INDEX Eckhart. 89. 112 Lull. Gareth. 76. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 82–83 Heidegger. 102 Leade. 100 Marcus. 84. 80–81 Fortune. 104. 46–52. Jewish. Joseph de. 40 . 54. 76 Maistre. 151 Merswin. 137 Goethe. Ralph Waldo. Margaret. Ramon. 1 Keeble. Victor Sogen. Georg Heinrich. 2. 101–102 Frey. 56 Maier. Meister.S. 8. 21–22 Hermetica. Samuel. 43–45. 126. 153 Homer. ix. 36–39 Gutkin. 50. 123. Nicholas. 9. 56 Jerusalem. 89–103 Hermetism. 77 Flamel. Herman. 29 Hiram. T. 42. 25 Hinduism. 46.S. 9 Eliot. 12–15. 84 Lewis. 30. Edward. Susan. 5. 56. 109. 51 Islam. Benjamin. 103 Fuller. 10–12. 111 Geheime Figuren.
87–88. 64. 32 Plato. 48 Mysticism. 136 Science and objectification. Jean. 152 Richter. 64 Roberts. 139 Saint Martin. 56 Swedenborg. 59. 108 Rimius. Robert. 112–113 Morienus. Kathleen. 4 Shakespeare. 70. René. 56. 39–40 Solovyov. 63 Rici. John. Rainer Marie. 63. 76 Parzival. 120. 57. 60. 69. 87–88. 99 Philip. Marsha Keith. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 18. 90. Vladimir. Emanuel. 14. 90 Porete. 94. 47. O. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 103. 19. 25. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 92. 99. 118 Ramsay. 103. 112 Ripley. 71–76 Rousseau. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 26 Tolkien. Thomas. 105. John. 40 Raine. 140 Tauler. 67–69. 29–30 Olympiadorus. Pierre. Paulus. 99 Pasqually. 84 Reading. Johann Christoph. 90 Talmud. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 74. 56 Moses de Leon. 5. 75–78 Paracelsus. Martinez de.R. 11 Russian literature. 19. 8 Nishitani Keiji. Samuel. 115. 46. 37–38 Pascal. Czeslaw. 21 Poiret. 76 Sufism. Jean. 18. 66 New Age. 150. 13. 114–115 Thenaud. 51. 85. Johannes. 108. 99. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 79. 84 Pordage. 148 Platonic archetypes. 4 Reuchlin. Bernadette. 73. Henry. Andrew Michael. 36. 119 Raleigh. Joseph. 52 Pansophy. Gustav. 116 Self. 105. 40 Milosz. Christian..R. 52 Piers Ploughman. 56 Origen. 140 Templars. 152 . 29 Pre-Socratics. 109. ix. 2. 141 . 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 69. Book of. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 79. 90 Milosz. 154–156 Norton. 113. 23–26. 5.. 14–15. 137. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 17. sacred. 21. 115. 32. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 116 Nature [concept of]. 58 Numbers.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 53. William. 5 Minotaur. Sir Walter. 47–48. 148 Radical ecology. 89. 123 Poimandres. 148 Seidel. 99 Scholem. 43 Synesius. 53 Theosophy. Gershom. 140 Tao te ching. 53 Rilke. Louis-Claude de. 68. Marguerite. 53 Theseus. Milton. 26–27 Moravians. 52–53 Revelation. 99 Prospero. 46. 8 Rosicrucianism. 103 Pyrlaeus. 110 Southey. 92. 138 Stellatus. J. 2 Postel. 89–103. Gospel of. Gillaume. Johannes. 2. Blaise. 92. 50 Schuchard.V ix. 9. George. 115 Pythagoras.
148 Zen Buddhism. 79 Willermoz. 104. 48. 10. 35–43 Ungrund. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 88. 64. 156 Zinzendorf. 86 Welling. 53 Versluis. ix.E. 111. Hugh. 10. 112–113 Zohar. Georg von. Frances. 106 Washington. 67–69 Upanishads. Egidio Cardinal.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. 55. 103. 137. 10. 110. 101 Weishaupt. 75 Yeats. David. Jean-Baptiste. 89. M. 116 Yates. Charles. 63. 111 Warlick... 148 Zosimos. 103. 84 Williams. Adam. W. 82 Troubadours. Nicholas. 9. George. ix. 103. 120. 122–123 Williamson. 31 Viterbo.B. 2. 140 Valentinus. Arthur. 56 .
and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. 2 vols. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. 1992).. Earlier.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Gnoses. 1956). and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. 1992). 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. eds. Theosophy. (Leuven: Peeters. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. 1998). as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. 1998). 1998). 1994).msu. Imagination. (Graz: Akademische.aseweb. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. 2000). Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. 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. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters.org. along with its companion book. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. 2001).edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www.esoteric. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. 1975). Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press.
Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Gnosis and Literature (St. 2001). 1994).174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. . and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Paul: Grail. Paul: Grail. 1999). 2000). as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. edited by Brian Keeble. Paul: Paragon House. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. 2002). 1996). and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 1996).
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