Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Art. and Consciousness
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
P a r a d i s e
I. Albany. electrostatic. Title. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. Occultism in art. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. Suite 700. Laurie Searl Marketing. BF1411. 3. Occultism—History. recording. II.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. ALBANY © 2004 Arthur Versluis Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. art. Anne M. 90 State Street. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. address State University of New York Press. Occultism in literature. cm. mechanical. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. Valentine
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
. photocopying. p. Authur.
For information. Series.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. paper) 1. 2. NY 12207 Production. magnetic tape. literature.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine
and Masonic Literature
Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. Rosicrucian.
Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. and Consciousness Notes Index
but as the book took shape. and Cecil Collins. traditions. At the very least. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. V. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. but in keeping with my original impetus. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context.
. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. and consciousness itself. figures. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists.. In writing this book. D. Lewis. art.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. but the work’s focus remains Western. C. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. Milosz. literature. O. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. 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. Hence. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. S. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. At the suggestion of an early reader. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. H.
2001). Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. Milosz. 1997). in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. and to Studies in Spirituality. 1994) and Meditations. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works.). (Ipswich: Golgonooza. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. Poems. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. from Trilogy. © 1945 by Oxford University Press.Acknowledgments
Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. including the adapted cover illustration. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. V.D. from Trilogy.D. de L.D.. 1985). to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. each of whom helped to make it a better work. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. © 1944 by Oxford University Press.
.). in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared.
literary. or conveying spiritual experiences. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present.1 Here. religious. provoking. and perhaps even more critically. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. are now appearing. and one that has ramifications in many directions. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. mutually
. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. and metaphysical or transcendent. These are not. the study of mysticism. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. but also. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. Yet for this to take place. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. however. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. In this book. figures. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). artistic. 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.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. even apophatic mysticism. and otherwise.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature.
we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. astrology. or gnosis. left out of literary. astrology. theosophy. religious. Freemasonry. above all this is a book about knowing. Undoubtedly. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. of course. however disparate.2
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. including alchemy. that is what this book is about. or Hermeticism. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. Rosicrucianism. In essence. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. Christian gnosis. or convey spiritual awakening. this must be our primary focus. Christian theosophy. Yet these traditions.
. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. magic. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. provoke. Here. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. magic. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. Not at all. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. 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. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. examples of it include alchemy. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. philosophical. and social histories. mysticism. Like the koan. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. do have certain characteristics in common. however. In particular. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. Rather. Jewish Kabbalah. and about how we come to know. But the time for such biases is past.
For as we will see. And underlying these is. we find on the social front. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. about reading the stars. a vast field. Western esotericism is.INTRODUCTION
Why? For the first time in several hundred years. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. nature. the Western esoteric traditions. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. and there are many treasures to be found there. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. therefore. proliferating wildly.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. despite their often almost bewildering variety. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. when we look at Western societies. To navigate one’s way through these movements. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. of course. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. By looking more closely at the origin. what their predecessors are. At the same time on the religious front. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. Thus. sects. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. when a panoply of religions. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged.
. and to understand their patterns and meaning. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. and to alternative forms of spirituality. which is often seen either as outdated. and cults existed side by side. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. our time resembles the early Christian era. in my view. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. In many respects.
but can be transmuted. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. we feel as someone else feels. What is more. And when we read a great poem. Greek in origin. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data.’ that is. and each requires the other. and ultimately with the divine. minerals and stars. why do we travel with
. By contrast. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. when we read the works of an Emerson. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. If there are great writers. of course. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. When we read a novel. but with consciousness itself. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. so too there are great readers. imaginatively enter into different lives. however. In every experience of literature. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. and will require much elaboration. is much deeper than it might at first appear. The mystery of reading is. reading here guides one toward gnosis. we have developed machines that ‘read.’ Unexamined here. refers to spiritual knowledge. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. or spiritual knowledge. in other words. purgatory. also about union. The word gnosis.4
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
This theme of reading. we enter into another’s world. 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. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize.’ itself a metaphor for our time. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. The view of reading and literature that I have just articulated is far from the more widespread contemporary assertion that writing and reading are merely about the exchange of information through signs. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. and heaven. Likewise.
fiction. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. Rather. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. 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. and where we are going. where we are from. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. and essays. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets.” 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. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. We make connections. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now
. What is more. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. not about accumulating more information. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness.INTRODUCTION
Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. drama. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. and when we read them. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. like so many others. we understand. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. 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.
we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. and everything becomes a matter of techné. quantitative. or manipulation.6
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
call “literature” or “literary tradition. and particularly literature. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. nature. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. By contrast. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two
. most notably Western esoteric traditions. and the divine. indeed. from which we believe that we are separate. 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. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. people most of all. living divorced from humanity. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. 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. but also the even more primal act of knowing. as if catalogic. one based not on division but on union. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. including people. In this respect. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. Certainly Western esoteric traditions were prevalent at the beginning of the modern era: contemporaneous with the emergence of modern rationalist science were completely different kinds of sciences. 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. it suffuses our language. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. but for connection and union. the way we see the world. finally. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. everything. 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. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity.
and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. 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. literature. and groups in Western European and North American history. But the fact remains that there are also figures. And in North America as well. and consciousness. The reader. so too that choice still exists today. 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. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance.6 Subsequently. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age.INTRODUCTION
ways. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. And indeed. and so forth. alone with an author. 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 from the Renaissance and early modern periods. crystals.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. however. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. Indeed. works. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies.
W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways.
. In Western Europe. and so to maintain clarity. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions.
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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-
In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. joined to a view of Zen Buddhism as a way of escaping the pollution of society and language back to an original pureness beyond language. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. then it is a breakthrough not out of. From this viewpoint. not beyond it. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. in his Shobogenzo. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. I believe. through language and image. . Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. but into conventional consciousness . The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. however. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in
. If kensho is the realization of nonduality.”11 This is. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. 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. At one time. . then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned.” 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. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity.INTRODUCTION
soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). 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. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art.
as I will propose here. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. I am arguing that in the West. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. 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. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. 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. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. By
. for that matter. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. is there a third interpretation that lies somewhere between these two? Such questions are important because the imaginative faculty is so vital to creating and to understanding literary and artistic works. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. and thus also to the individual. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. What makes Western esotericism different above all. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. frustrating though this may be.
T H E E S O T E R I C I M A G I N AT I O N The word imagination of course derives from image. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. This is not to say that the West had or. as means of initiation. Rather. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. as in individual daydreams. Like the koan. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. Rather. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic.12
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
‘mysticism’ to attempt to legislate mystical or gnostic knowledge out of existence by claiming that the gnostic is merely entering or deploying another form of conceptual language. The koan derives its name from a judicial term.
This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. it is not for a general readership. For instance. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. the images. For example. Imagination. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience.12 As a result. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. literary or otherwise. 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 work is circumscribed. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. the action by the act of reading or viewing. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn.INTRODUCTION
its very nature. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. in other words. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. guide. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to
. it is for the few. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. 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. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. Obviously. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty.
analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. Initiates. and 3. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. to understand them. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. 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. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. but here a new magical earth is brought
. Yet if we answer “yes. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. Sympathetic readers. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no.’ 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. and this too presents problems. 2. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer.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. 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. who enter into a work imaginatively. which is what I am proposing here.” The gnostic. graspable solution to a koan. and nothing less. I am arguing here that readers must belong to at least the second of these two categories in order to genuinely begin to study and understand esoteric works. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. not one’s own. in other words. But there is a third perspective. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves.
if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. but resides in a continuum between the two. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. 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. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art.INTRODUCTION
into being in him out of the Ungrund. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. in sum. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. This. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. The realm of the imagination. 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. In other words. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. is by its very nature one of co-creation. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. then. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. What is more. 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. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. to the divine power within that creates. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within.
. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine.
and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. 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. we must begin in antiquity. what we may call a
. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. the Book of Revelation. is profoundly different. death. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. needless to say. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. and resurrection. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. however. This. Here. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. and. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. And to find these themes. The other kind of writing.1
ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. From relatively early on. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word.
Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. The gnostics. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. and indeed. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. Consider. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. or historical. an ahistorical. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. Of course. or technological. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. we can see how anomalous it is.
. legal. that one can easily list them. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. 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 written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. and on the other. for instance. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. the Word was not literal but spiritual. as throughout world religious traditions. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. so rare—in fact. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. of course. the development of Buddhism.18
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
historicist emphasis. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. literal. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. and mythic. be it scientific. should it be ahistorical. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. By contrast. multilayered approaches. revelatory emphasis. In Christianity. on the other hand. symbolic. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence.
it is reserved for those who are capable of it. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. and communion. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. Who was rejected as heretical. true pronunciation. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. and who else was accepted as orthodox. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. who are worthy of it. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. Likewise. In general. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. the seeds of all things. just
. asceticism. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. These vibratory seeds human beings may contact or activate through spiritual practice and in this way be in touch with the powers that inform creation itself. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. For instance. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. here it is vertical. and spiritual illumination. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism.ORIGINS
who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. but such an approach is not for everyone. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. that is. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. one is in touch with inconceivable power. however much their literalist opponents think differently. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. but of communication. chiefly vowels. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity.
2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor.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. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. as principles of creation itself. 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. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. through images. basilisks. are a means to creation’s redemption. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. Letters and numbers. 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. 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. as does the creation of images. paradoxically conveyed often through
. such images represent divine aspects. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. so the letters were altered. but if the letters were properly restored. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. and so forth. The letters. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. then. we can see how these images fit rather well into the tradition: they represent again a means of invoking and ‘fixing’ the underlying powers or principles of creation itself. and macrocosmically. which undoubtedly drew upon and incorporated elements of the Greek mystery traditions even as they differed from the Greeks in their emphasis upon writing down the mysteries and then writing down commentaries upon the previous writings. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. and contain within them the seeds of the perennial struggle in all three forms of monotheism between those who take the word literally and those who advocate gnosis. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. thereby making this conflict inevitable. inconceivable power would be set loose.
There is no one author of the Hermetica. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. “there is communion between soul and soul. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. which were also about death and resurrection. in the first centuries of this era.” From the very beginning. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways.” the being. in symbols and myths. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. but share elements in common with all three. 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. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic.” but not like an ordinary sleep. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism).25). The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. letter. “I know what you wish. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. “for I am with you everywhere.ORIGINS
the permutations of word. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. is self-evident. presented in the form of dialogues. of the mysteries tradition. number. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations.” the “voice of the Light.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. Poimandres. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep.” (X.22b)
. tells him. out of which emerges a “holy Word. In at least some respects. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth.
and writings that reveal a great many similarities. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. and there is a witness to the revelation. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. they certainly intermingled. then. always there is a fluid. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. Indeed.
T H E F I E L D O F T H E I M A G I N AT I O N It is commonplace today to think of the imagination as a means of escapism— the word is roughly equivalent to daydreaming or to fantasy. For from what we have said. Platonism. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. It is. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate.” “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. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. or direct knowledge of the divine. 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. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. mercurial quality to it. and Hermetism. yet not strictly philosophical either. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. Like Hermes himself. traditions. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. what we find is something quite different. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. the mystery traditions. However.22
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
There is an initiator or revealer. Christian esotericism. and
a mesocosm. in the fourth chapter. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. Although the vision has a beginning. questions. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. and behold. and behold. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. beginning with the Revelation to John. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era.ORIGINS
I do not believe this to be true. off the Greek coast. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. John. when he weeps. At one point. where John meets. apparently visionary time. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. once introduced to this sequence. a throne was set in heaven. an elder tells him to weep not. and where the earthly past. quite well known. Above all. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. present. or field of the imagination. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. a door was opened in heaven. and he interacts with them. and future are visible. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. when he eats the book. Then. And immediately I was in the spirit. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent
. and the auditory part of the vision began. and does eat. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. . and one sat on the throne. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. Yet interestingly. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. I believe that literature. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. turned. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. of course. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. mythology. but take place in their own time. . However. a little book sweet as honey. There are. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. he sees the twenty-four elders. he is told to eat. and in the tenth chapter. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. and only then.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. came the following: “After this I looked. in other words. Rather. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. saw and heard these things.
The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. all remind us of the prior traditions.” during these the end times. John is given a little book to eat. But for our purposes. in other words. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. found in Judaism. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life.12). John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. of course. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. and one hundred forty-fours. and Hermetism. angels. One. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era
. Christian Gnosticism. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. Every aspect of life is altered. these elements lend themselves very much to an esoteric interpretation: the symbols and numbers represent a secret knowledge known by the few symbolically designated as the “woman in the wilderness.9).24
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Western esotericism. In the tenth chapter. of course. Taken together. and finds it bitter in his belly. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. the Book of Revelation of St. there are “other books.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. and we are given warnings at his account’s end that no one should add to or subtract from what is written in his book (22:18).13). but sweet as honey on his lips. the very book that we are reading. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. which he does. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. and are in a sense initiates. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. And then there is. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. becoming symbolically charged. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. Additionally. a gnostic encounter with elders. we will recall. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. John is united with its knowledge. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. The Revelation. and by eating the book. twelves.
and so it is charged with cosmological revelations.ORIGINS
came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. seen by a seer. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. Rather. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. At the same time. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. a hearer. Of course. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. splendid earthly form: but again. 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
. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. and what is heard. 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. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. the Ascension of Isaiah. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. and what is seen. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. the Revelation does not stand alone. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. all of which belong to the apocrypha. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. and of James and of Adam. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. where an encounter may take place. at the mystical tradition. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. But such knowledge remains partly in the realm of division or objectification: there is a revelatory encounter between John and all the angelic figures of the vision. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. at the Kabbalistic tradition. Yet because it became canonical. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. it is an image. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. words. profoundly symbolic numbers. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm.
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. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. as wild as the book of Revelation. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. ranging from external to internal. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh-
. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. we are drawn toward it. objectifying it. far more than may at first appear. for although the Revelation is the most well known. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. often in a simple story. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. or put better. or from exoteric to esoteric. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. 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. So it is with the story of Theseus. without relevance to oneself. and exists more for entertainment. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. The analogy of electricity. how hieroeidetic a work is. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. it is certainly not the only one. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. to the transcendent.26
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Christianity itself.’ of participation. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. a constellation of letters and numbers. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. of being charged. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. more electric.
THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. In other words. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. Esoteric literature. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. to make it one’s own. And though we risk being burned. has a certain value here: a symbol or image.
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.
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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
so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. and its light “never sets. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. 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. in dreams. although we refer to them by the same names. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. and numbers emerge in. VI. and the entire name had thirty letters.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. we find plays on naming and namelessness. sacred images. and in religious experiences. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. and reveal transcendence. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. For instance. or aeon. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. For to read the metalanguage of the cosmos is truly to read the Book of Life—a figure for the hidden energies or powers that inform life both in the cosmos and in ourselves. it is the realm of living ideas or energies.”3 In other words.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. we participate in what they represent.30
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
sound that in turn manifests others. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. in the Gospel of Philip. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. Indeed. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. embody. This name was composed of four syllables. but different aspects of the same way. which is of a totally different order. words. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. As we ‘read’ these images. and we enter into a realm where negation and affirmation are both recognized to be at once valid and invalid ways of expressing what transcends them both. or one will
. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. not opposite or even complementary ways. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible.xxxvi). so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. there is earthly marriage. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. the first of which had four letters. we become intimate with them. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature.
What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. gnostic paradigms. for the aeon is fullness for him. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. is. but rather. The nameless and the named are not divided. indeed. but its inseparable companion. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. the unnameable. Rather. 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 cosmos is no longer opaque. divided consciousness.ORIGINS
not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. not hidden in the darkness and the night. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. elusive. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. characteristic ways of understanding. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. 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. Here naming refers. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities.”4 In other words. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. when one dies. The world has become the aeon. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. but is free in life and in death.
CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. evokes. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. not to arbitrary designations. for such a one the world is transparent. I do not mean to suggest that there is a direct current of influence running from relatively obscure works like the Gospel of Philip or the lost writings of Basilides into medieval and modern times. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth.
nor wholly from without. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. . of which the quantitative designation is a husk. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. According to rational consciousness. of the different properties of beings. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception.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. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. . which is the mystery of words and of the book. a third characteristic. What is more. By contrast. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. without masters. separated from the subject who sees. which all proceed from the one only essence . and therein we obtain the pure key. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. Here. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. and are visible in major European literary works. to which I have already devoted some study. however. More intimately. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. Out of the gnoses of numbers. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. whether visible or intellectual. On the lowest level. in his own degree. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature.”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. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. my dear brother.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. including Piers Ploughman. woven together into a
. everyone. of course. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. A fourth characteristic is imagery. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. Even more intimately yet. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. letters. on which conventional mathematics is founded. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. They are only the sensible expression. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra.
Greek. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. Egyptian. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. to become it. whether. words. Christian. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. often do not hold at all. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. numbers. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. from antiquity to the present. and images. taken together. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. Jewish and Christian and Greek. images.
. Thus we can see the outlines of the mysteries of the word and the book that in turn give rise to the Western esoteric traditions. words. Its mysteries of names. in one form or another. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths.ORIGINS
tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. but also to convey it. Roman. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. and traditions best express his understanding. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. letters. By following the courses of Western esotericism. 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.
in giving honor to his beloved. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. The knight in swearing fealty to his lord is engaged in a social relationship that can also have spiritual implications: to act properly as a knight is also to fulfill one’s higher responsibility as a warrior for the divine. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. The troubadour. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. 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.
. of course. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song.2
H i s t o r i c a l C u r re n t s
DIVINE SERVICE: C H I VA L R Y A N D T H E T R O U B A D O U R S It is. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere.
Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. Much more likely that here. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. Instead. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible.
. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. 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. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. But when we look at these movements as a whole. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. is no. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. likewise. for example. even surreptitious. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. particularly the chivalric tradition. that is to say. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. Of course. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent.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. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. we can see in the poetry of the time that there was a mysterious amorous language that referred both to carnal and divine love at once. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. I think.E. never explicitly discussing. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. or love’s faithful.
but God may have taken them back. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). for the name disappears. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. and has a rich reward in heaven.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. occupying a middle ground between these. He found that a man named Flegetanis. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. whence had come the Grail. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. Naturally. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. those who did not take sides. and this is the mystery of names. teacher of Eschenbach. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl.
. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. we are told. For. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. that is. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. there is no need to erase it. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. a hermit. Hearing this. and to whom God sends his angel. then the chivalric life is his one desire. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. In any event. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. noble angels. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. both pagan and Christian. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. worthy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
Nonetheless. but there is another source. For instance.
Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli-
. the knight is told by Feirifiz. and at the end of the tale. we are told to honor women. we will recall. but also with the changing of the moon. and if he asked a 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. and that is the exalted position of women. entertaining. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. then naming them one by one in Arabic. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. And at the book’s conclusion. For instance. just as is Western esotericism more generally. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. then their sorrows would end. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. the spotted knight. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. and that of all the Grail servers.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. like chivalric literature more generally.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. Saturn to suffering. 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. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. remains this-worldly in emphasis. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. of course. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. Parzival.” chiefly Saturn. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. Rather. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. The Grail. of course. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. in particular. Yet this implicit esotericism. When inevitably she does so. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. Throughout the tale. He was to ask. like so many of the Western esoteric currents.
where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. the poem. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. like Grail tales more generally. and. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. continence. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. At the end of Gawain. part of a tradition that. Yet in the story’s conclusion. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. of course. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. the first is the true knot. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. First. is marked with a tiny colored initial. and piety. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. he ultimately feels shamed. marking why Gawain is a fine man. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. the five virtues. loving kindness. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. these being liberality. in Gawain as in Parzival. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. Once again. courtesy. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one.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. Gawain’s symbol. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. like several others in the poem. 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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
ness and otherworldliness in the service of one’s chivalric duties and of the Grail is the key to chivalric literature more generally. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. but with the five fingers. as I have elsewhere shown. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. the number of maidens serving the Grail. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight
. This famous passage. When Gawain. with the five wounds of Christ. And this green marks my second point of observation. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. in the image of the pentangle.
The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). growth. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. yet it is also the symbol of new life. Or again.”] Or again. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. the hidden divine messenger. to be renewed. This same duality inheres in the color green. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. yet at the same time. pus nons val arditz. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. / And since talking directly can’t help us. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the
.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. and the illicit. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. perhaps cunning can. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. not monastic or priestly.40
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
symbolize the bewitchments of the world. although a lay group. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. One does find esoteric themes. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms.” The Friends of God were. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. like the chivalric orders.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning.” or “the Green Isle. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. Gawain. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. green is the color of nature. and renewal. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage.
ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. Dante ends this strange work. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. time. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. like the great Divine Comedy. we end by passing beyond space. philosophical. Boethius. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. calls upon the “book of memory. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. thrice-blessed Lady. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. 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 at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. La Vita Nuova. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. Dante sees Beatrice again. Thus Dante’s greatest works. but the faculty of imaginal perception. albeit more literary. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. and exactly nine years later. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. as does the play that we see here on naming. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. of course. of course. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. an intervening figure in the tradition. poems. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. with a final vision about which he will not now write. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact
. as in the Divine Comedy. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. and words and ideas into the empyrean. In De consolatione. is a visionary poem. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
Grail. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. this time wearing a white dress. There is. and here. and his commentary. And of course.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. in the ninth hour of the day. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. who lived during the fifth century. This is. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. full of images. 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.
and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike.” and by “kervere of ymages. 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.42
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
depict unfolding gnostic revelation. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. above all. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. instrumentz. known as a primary literary figure in English history. But all the same. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. however. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales.” “gastly for to see.” In that “portreiture. and of divine service. yet he went further. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. Chaucer. especially of the knight for his lady. Like Dante. 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. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. marked east and west by gates of marble. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions.” Thus this tale. caroles. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. Earthy. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. Chaucer was not an esotericist. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. here. Here. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. 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. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. bareyne trees olde. knarry. daunces” around her. with an oratory. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. the theater of art. And these are evoked
.” with “festes.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. We see in Chaucer’s tale. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference.
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. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. not just a set of correspondences. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. At this juncture. Ars brevis. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. until he was thirty. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. on the first page of the Book of the Lover and the Beloved—these terms representing a favorite motif of Sufi poetry throughout the centuries—we find a direct reference to Sufism itself. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. For although Lull. was prolific. but with the advent of rationalism. and indeed. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. like Chaucer. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. literature is not only entertainment. Lull. and of course his most well-known and influential works. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. given its astonishing scope. The lover answered. (a kind of chivalric code). was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. bringing together the chivalric. (part of his romance Blanquerna). The Book of Contemplation. In the ninety-ninth chapter. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. we are given the meditations of the hermit.” are familiar to students of
. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. and Ars generalis ultima.” The Art represents. “knowledge” and “remembrance. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. troubadour. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. one for each of the 365 days of the year. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
through literature. In fact. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. Not surprisingly. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. These terms. and this is no accident.
and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. rather than my Beloved in the world. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. Of course. all errors are implanted in the world. he condensed his art into nine letters. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. 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. out of arrogance or presumption. whose influence extended across Europe. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. ‘Yes. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. since my Beloved contains all. and profaning holy things with figures. images. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. and writings. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. However. but of those done with the wrong attitude. most of all in the exposition of his art. not of figures. The cosmos represents the divine writing. and writings in themselves.44
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Sufism. and images.” In this falsified knowledge. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean-
. images. north and south. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. Further.’ They asked him. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. invoking evil spirits as good angels. west. but for purposes of clarity.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. just as the writer is in his book. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. Originally.’”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. By means of these letters. And through presumption. Lull used more letters. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. that is. we are also participating in this relationship. as the readers of Lull’s book. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. and that is the book. This extraordinary art. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. Here we find a clear condemnation. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. and by writings.
”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. In the full art. and gluttony. 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. depending upon how the letters are combined. angel. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. B signifies. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. For this reason. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. and so forth. and avarice. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. I— Veritas. At the same time.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
ings. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. Hence in many respects. whether?. B—Bonitas. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. For instance.
. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. tables. justice. difference. Of course his work is unique. prudence. or that from the Ars brevis. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. found in the Ars compendiosa. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. The Lullian art. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. 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. 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. for example. God. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. has vast implications. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. and numerous other arrangements. what?. 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. for instance. concordance. “goodness. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations.” C signifies “greatness. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. Lull himself combined them using circles. E—Potestas. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. it includes and transcends logic. triangles. trees.
and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. 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. intricately woven. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. troubadour. In these traditions. And as literature. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. Rosicrucianism. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. or English gnostic. the words. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery.or eighteenth-century German. and Freemasonry. of course. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. French. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. Christian. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. 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. It is.
. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions.46
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
We also see this perspective visible in a muted way in chivalric and troubadour literature. the chivalric. however. 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. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry.
BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. Rather. but this is virtually never the case. 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. 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. but what is more.
which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. and thus Kabbalism. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. also may have roots elsewhere. 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. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. For instance. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir.E. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. and cosmogony. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C.
. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. And in fact. a work that Gershom Scholem insists “cannot be explained on the basis of the tradition of philosophic thought in Judaism or as a product of its decline.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. for instance. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world.8 But for our purposes. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. But the Bahir. The book Bahir. Castile. number. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. and Kabbalism more generally. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word.9 Yet at the same time. dating to the Talmudic period.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism.” Scholem concludes. and elsewhere in Europe. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. terminology. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. “The affinity with the language. disclosing them only in parabolic language.
and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works.” (that is. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. which comprise a total of 613 letters. caught up in the spirit. but another view. But in any event. 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. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. For example.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. as a female is fertilized from the male.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. including the human body. 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. 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. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. spiritual. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. the tonal accents. but here takes on the meaning of “com-
. he wrote the entire work without any precedent.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. informing the cultural. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. supported by some contemporary testimony. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. for example. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah).11 Of course.” Indeed. In section 124. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. and natural realms at once. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. writing the Names of God) and through this power. said to symbolize the abdomen. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition.
For instance.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. 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. corresponding to yod.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. Through this kind of multiplication.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. made transparent so
. out of it emerges the Names.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A.” 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 prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. an ¯ “ether. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. forty.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. action . or aleph. is allowed to ask questions. in the Fountain of Wisdom. speech. utterance. 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.” which may or may not itself be an “a. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. Here. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness.”14 In other words. not even Moses. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. . eighty.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. all comprehension and thought. and yod in turn becomes twenty. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt. .HISTORICAL CURRENTS
bination. the tenth letter. 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. all are found in this Name.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. we are told. the essence of everything. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. so to say. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a.”18 This. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames.” One can easily see. and 160. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. voice.”17 By investigation. from reading this extraordinary work. . there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. in this context. yet when these Names are removed. inquiry . “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. whispering. .” about which no one. but My Face will not be seen.
”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. but also metaphysical. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. All of these exist. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. sometimes without. that of hardened or congealed materiality. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. Indeed. ’En sof literally means “infinity. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. is not only cosmological.20 For that matter. broadly speaking. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. Medieval Kabbalism. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness.’ Only that which lives in any particu-
. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. then. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. What is seen in the eye of imagination is expressed through alphanumeric riddles such as references to “four letters that constitute a fire that consumes fire. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof.50
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
that through them in the eye of imagination we can see the hidden principles and working of the cosmos itself. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. as Scholem remarks. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. emerges. not from this side. including thought. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. but from the other.
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
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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
that ultimately all beings will be saved. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. surface is nothing and depth is everything. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. But before discussing these implications. Here. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. that is. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. or vice versa.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. and beauty. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. Indeed. intricacy. To such approaches. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. literature represents portals into the transcendent. In the twentieth century.
. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. where one finds literature and religion fused. however unfamiliar to us today. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. much less the possibility of transcendence. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. after all. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. Spain. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. ramified throughout religious and literary history. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. And when we look at Kabbalism. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. In the eighteenth century. Such an approach to literature. or vice versa. For Kabbalah. 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. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. which is. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality.
Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. When we look at European alchemical works. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory.’ yet not entirely Christian. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. Indeed. forces one to wrestle with it alone. However. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. itself also highly literary: the koan. hence on the one hand religious. as the “art of Hermes. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. To the first-time observer. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
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. to work it through. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. alchemy. we cannot help but notice religious references. Of course. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian.
. as we saw earlier. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. So too. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. like the alchemical expression or riddle. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. on the other transmitted by way of literature. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. not entirely ‘pagan.
Ramon Lull. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. thirteenth century). Roger Bacon. either. One places oneself in the line of what is. Synesius. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. alchemical literature. put another way. even if its work resembles these in some respects. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. or al-Rhazi (ca. the embodying of spirit.—latinized as Rhazes). be they in the mineral.. George Ripley (fifteenth century). 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. a tradition transmitted through literature. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C.E.
. at heart. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. After all. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. 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. Indeed. as has historical placement.E. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. the vegetable. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. and Morienus of the seventh century C. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century).56
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
with constant reference to the accumulated prior works in relation to which any given work is seen. For alchemy extends into many realms. that is. Olympiodoros. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present.. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. and takes place by way of fire. 825–932 C. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. Thus. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. in the revelation of paradise. plant. even if it does not entirely belong to these. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. and the spiritualizing of the body. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth.E. All of these authors did write on alchemy. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. or the animal kingdom.
consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. “The Golden Tripod. seek not many utensils for thy labor. of course. His title.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. and author Michael Maier. . composer. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. If thou knowest the substance and the method. in his preface. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. Indeed. physician. bracketed by mythological references. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book .”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. and gave it to us by mighty toil. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. which Vulcan cast into the sea. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). and thou knowest all. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. Maier. and are to come. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work.” In other words. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. Thomas Norton.
. it is enough. Here.” that is.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). . were.
The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. and proved of the greatest efficacy. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. Here you see the perfection of our Art. while around him are various figures. over a fire. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. and that which is palpable.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. . The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. and to the queen’s left.58
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Yet the treatise itself.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. and a man sowing seeds. and this Mars has done. . while the Moon. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. as well as an angel blowing a horn. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all.” With its spiritual essence. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. including two archers shooting at targets. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. the Sun.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. despite its elliptical means of expression. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. the king bearing a staff. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. a half-naked man with a scythe. in the background a dead tree stump.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. being bereft of images
. the queen a three-flowered plant. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys.” pleads the case of her husband. that which is visible. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. to be invisible. before him a burning barrel. to become impalpable .”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. is at once literary and practical. Shortly thereafter. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. 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. on the far left side a single candle. a king and a queen. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal.
a man named Herbert. two of living sulphur. strong and pure.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. Cremer in this. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. 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.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. 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. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. and tortured for four years. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. His testament is to be copied every sixty years.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
and much more inclined to tell stories. and prepared in about four days. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. In recent times. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. two of orange arsenic. and so was let go. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. of course. Such. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. of
. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. so as not to lose legibility over time. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. and two of willow charcoal. Dalton said he was happy to die. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. three of rabusenum. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. his last testament. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. we are told. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions.”35 And indeed.
which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. And of course. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. Paracelsus tells us. not merely from the outside and as other. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. 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. one may know the inner nature of anything. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. for they occupy different dimensions within it. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. fire. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. vegetable. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. We may ‘read. Confronted with such a colloquy. not all evestra are benefic. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way.60
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
course. ethereal counterparts. According to Paracelsus. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi-
. Spagyric medicine.’ then. allegories. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. But in any event. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. Imagination governs the development of things. Through these evestra. To say. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. its subtle essence. Of course. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. water. literary allusions. poems. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. to carry it within. but is joined with them in the imagination. not only by looking at words on a page. epigrams. air. and animal realms. one branch of alchemy. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. but also through the power of the imagination. then. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow.
. philosophy. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. it is entirely real. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. but that in this particular worldview.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
nary. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. wine. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. II Chronicles 13:5. 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. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. light air. the true medicine and theology. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. .” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. like Valentinus’s. fire. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. as a spirit. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). but here are clearly spiritualized. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. The terms used in its title—oil. indeed. more real than what we see in the physical. a matter of
. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. like Cremer’s testament. and mist. and so forth.74). . There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . may be interpreted in both ways at once. This is the true Ground of Nature .” and to a host of Biblical references. It is as though here alchemy. 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. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. while others. . Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. including Romans 1. Genesis 1:27. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. Of course. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. emphasize their recipe quality. these two poles became further separated. At this juncture we should recognize that alchemical literature can be interpreted along a spectrum ranging from a focus on its spiritual meaning to a focus on its physical interpretation. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth.
The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. in harmony” (II. these terms have an alchemical provenance. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. the depths. Oil. nor whence they emerge (II. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Oil. and when either one is absent. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. Water. but the Sun light. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry.80). a true Astrologus. Thus. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. Yet alchemy. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. and one three . and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. we are told. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. inward dimension. . for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II.83). the author writes “That the earth is dark.105). which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. of existence. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. as a kind of counterpoint. . Salt. is a perspective that is all depth. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it.93). just as we find for instance Islamic
. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. And so we find the three One.77). and a true Medicus. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II.83). but here. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. Fire. that is the mystery wherein all lies. spiritual dimensions of the work. for instance.62
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
measurement and quantity leading to technology. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. like Hermeticism. easily translates into a dominant religion. In fact. However. or Water is. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi.
and of the third. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). Pordage’s work. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. and Kabbalistic themes. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. including “Chymie” or alchemy. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. But such rumors aside. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. not merely a pastiche. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. The implication. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. 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. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. and gnostic metaphysics. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. astrological. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. Indeed. beginning with the organization of the first section. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. Christian theosophy. of course. of the second.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. on mercury. from spiritual to physical. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 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. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. Kabbalah. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. and he and his spiritual circle. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. 1675). on sulfur. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. astrology. on salt. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. This is not
alchemy. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism.
von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726).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. then in a Liquorem .” “Thronen. diagrams. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. charts. and “Manna Coeleste.” Further. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. . x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. Indeed. 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. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. Here. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical
. to properly prepare mercury. and instructions. in other words. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. but might well also be called pansophic. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. he elided many details. . Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. and calcify it by hand. diagrams. das himmlische Manna genannt. tables. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. “Alchimische Fragen. of Pisa. At the same time. meaning the transcendent Godhead. Christian scripture.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. and in this regard he succeeded. including D. or mercury. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. 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. 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 . sulfur. .” and so forth. . For instance. with a plethora of astrological symbols.” “Cherubim. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires.
animal. but even more in the perfection of humanity. both seek to perfect this creativity. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. like a painting. a natural homology between alchemy and art. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. air. including not only chemicals and equipment. alchemy is like learning to use a language. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. Alchemy. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. broadly seen. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. we can easily see. letters. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination.’ in the broadest possible sense.’ There is. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. for example. and to ‘write. To effect the alchemical work requires that the artist enter into more transcendent states of consciousness—the work is in this respect a mirror of changes within the alchemist. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. or grammars. and images. water. vegetable. but also in the microcosm of the artist. One must learn both to ‘read. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. Here. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. of course. Thus we may well say that. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
king. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. Alchemy. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. of course. so that everything—mineral. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. however far-reaching. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images
. fire. In this sense. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. is a relatively modern phenomenon. as well as with what these represent. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. In some respects. and that we will shortly examine further. recipes. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself.
no doubt of that. humanity. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. and the restoration of the right
. between the observer and that which is observed. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. religion. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. and the divine. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. In Christian terms. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. who then are listed by later mystics—so too in alchemy earlier alchemists are invoked by the later ones in a litany of literary transmission. In alchemy. This is by no means to suggest. extends into a range of realms at once.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. Rather. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. I would use the word decoding. humanity. nature. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. between subject and object. in the manner of a mathematical equation. and the divine in ever more profound ways. But in alchemical works. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. Contemporary views of literature. one would have the solution. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. and science are one. literature. The ‘solution. Oral commentary by a master is important. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. However. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. the approaches to transcendence and the depictions of these approaches within alchemical literature nonetheless reflect quite clearly what we have already seen to be the dominant paradigm of western esotericism in antiquity. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. 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. both of physics and of literary criticism. like those of science. It is true that more recently theorists. were one to decipher what x and y mean. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. like Jung. that alchemy is chiefly psychological.’ in the case of alchemy. Indeed. Here in alchemy.
in the modern era. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. R O S I C R U C I A N . And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. 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. PA N S O P H I C . against ourselves. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. As we have seen. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. Indeed. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. and Freemasonry. So it is with alchemy. 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. but in relation to a host of other currents. 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 twentieth centuries. and against the divine. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. Rosicrucianism. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. nineteenth. divided against the world. We should also keep in mind the growing split. pansophy. especially during the eighteenth.
THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . between the sciences and the
. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. In the study of Western esotericism.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. in particular Christian theosophy. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises.
and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. the emergence of biology. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. at least in the secular world. near Poland. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. wrote literary works. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. as well as De Signatura
. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. explored theology and metaphysics. our approach being thematic. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. quite the opposite movement. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. rather than seeking to separate. in the arts. medicine and astrology. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. illustration and literature. John Pordage. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. nor is that our aim. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. and in religion.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. in Western esotericism we find. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. chemistry. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. a city on the eastern side of Germany. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. or Aurora. comparative and syncretic. Indeed. It is true that. However.68
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
humanities. say. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. practiced medicine and astrology. this sense of unity dissolved. and Franz von Baader. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. Rather. But Western esotericism. archaeology. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. The Copernican revolution. physical chemistry from metaphysics. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. the discovery of more complex technology. and geology. to name only a few of the most luminary. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. in the sciences. including. the fields of alchemy. and drawing from his visionary experiences.
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
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
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
for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. The Rosicrucians’ goal. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. For from the very beginning of the Fama.” These “Books of Nature.. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book.” into good Latin from Arabic. and later. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. But in any event. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. translates the “book M. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. R. Not coincidentally. like us. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. in the Orient.. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind.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). even if at times such orders did exist. The Fama begins by telling the story of C.” C.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is.” however. Hermeticism. caused a great stir in Europe. are to be collected by the wise. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. like its complement the Confessio. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom.”46 When C. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. R.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. And of course this brief work. and this is the “book M. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. returns eventually to Germany. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. they could collect Librum Naturae. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. of Christian theosophy as well. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. generally speaking. 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. “or a perfect method of all arts. if not universalism. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. Indeed. R. C. and why he is called Microcosmos. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him-
. R. according to the Fama. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions.
sciences. and hidden to the wicked world. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. that you could so read in one only book. or hope for. a century old.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures.” There is more. by four persons only. the Fama concludes by asserting that “our building (although one hundred thousand people had very near seen and beheld the same) shall for ever remain untouched. and come into our brotherhood. and shall be) hath been. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. like the book. full of geometric symbolism. every one with their several figures and sentences. The description is often hard to follow. and by them was made the magical language and writing. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. and arts. Interestingly. and withal by reading understand and remember. . The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. are now.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. Among other questions. wish. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. . recur as well in the Confessio. Yet once again. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. it is to read the universal book. and of reading the mysterious book of books. first. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. belongs to the mind and imagination. undestroyed. of eclecticism or universalism.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. with a large dictionary . . they also made the first part of the book M. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. . and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. or are able to believe or utter. . .HISTORICAL CURRENTS
self. is. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51
. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . the foundations and contents of all faculties.” the Fama continues. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . “After this manner. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. than that which is the head and sum. but follow only Christ.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. so that no one might later be deceived. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. called I.
or sixth age. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. . and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. 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. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. a very long history in the West. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. . a new language for ourselves. and held that there was emerging a new revelation.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by
.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. into all beasts . . unto any man without the special pleasure of God. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. with the date 1604. yet shall we never be manifested . of course. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. without and against the will of God. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. we are told that to some it is permitted that they see and use “those great letters and characters which the Lord God hath written and imprinted in heaven and earth’s edifice. and endue them with learning . correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. the Bible. for instance. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. and made.74
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Likewise. a new era for mankind. yea. yea. metahistorical events at the end of time. and quite probably to Egypt.” Such an idea of a magic language has. . Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. and above all. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. . All of this.”55 The implication is that here. of course. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. .”52 “These characters and letters. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. and writing in a “magic language. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. for instance. or worse than nothing.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. and have found out. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself.
in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. peaceful. brilliant. or why. Here. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. was of a non-sectarian. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following
. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. R. as Frances Yates notes. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. demons. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. and it too has been used in magical workings.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. as well as in subsequent literature. or pansophia. on a pansophic mysticism. particularly in France. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. or intelligences.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
sigils and magic squares. The Rosicrucian dream. 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. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. the Confessio. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. John Dee (1527–1604). Here. And all of this was tied in with the emerging rationalist and materialist paradigm of the so-called Enlightenment—which was precisely opposed to the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. who. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. discovered the “Enochian language. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature.” 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. 1604. 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.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C.’s tomb. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. and the outrageously baroque. that is. By 1623. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. disappearing around 1620. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years.
in order to form the basis for a new. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. in contrast to theosophy. which is specifically Christian gnosis. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. It is true that chemistry. and technologism. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. 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. herbalism. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. it emphasizes magic. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as
. Pansophy. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. various forms of magic. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. and Michael Maier. Christian or not. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). alchemy. cabalistic. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. In many respects. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. cabala. magical. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. derived from alchemy. mechanism. and inquiry into nature more generally. The most obviously included is natural magic. The pansophic view. Ruechlin. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. is universal. healing. including. Paracelsus.. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. not specifically Christian. 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. or magia naturalis. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. alchemical. often with Kabbalistic influence. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day.p. and gnostic. 1618)]. but like Dee. 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. of course. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. for instance.76
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
the Rosicrucian announcements. We might recall that.
Among the first of these. of vast and intricate tables. D. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. as a somewhat medieval figure. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. et Hyperphysica.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge.M. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. Cabball. Metaphysica. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence.. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. we tend to think of Faust. chiefly under the title Physica. Philosophia. diagrams. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. almost all.O. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. and a series of
. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. planetary correspondences. But Chemistry]. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. In some respects.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. de La Rose-Croix. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. including sorcery. in later Rosicrucianism.A. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. and much else. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. even if it is illicit. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. magic squares. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. nee non Magia.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
the basis for magical practices including sorcery. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. including a French edition titled F.
Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. for instance.O. or to Rosicrucianism. Son. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. marked also Father. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. partaking in both. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. in scholastic theology. in time and in eternity. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. that is. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. and with the word Chaos.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers.M. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow.A. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed.O. 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. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period.
.” and “Mineral Seed. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. and Holy Spirit. in visual form.M.” and so forth. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. of its hyperphysical dimensions. Here. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr.78
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
triangles and concentric circles below. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. here we have a different focus. for instance. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. surrounded by winged angelic forms. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists.” “Vegetable Seed. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. the greatest occultist of his day.” and has on either side gnomic sayings.A.” “Heavenly Seed. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science.” “Animal Seed. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. of course. John Dee.
or the Temple of Wisdom. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. unlike these other more individualistic movements. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). author of such works as Theomagia. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. science. theosophic. in other words. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
There was a time. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. but published only in German). and specifically. For all of the Rosicrucian. of course. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. who studied minerology. not so very long ago. Another such figure. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. truly a Renaissance man. (London: 1665). maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. not a visionary. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). the arts. the social and political realm. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. which. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. invented an industrial process. originally a scientist. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). of course. One sees this also. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. Freemasonry. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. and associated with the vast
. was John Heydon. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. stretching right into the nineteenth century.
and Rosicrucianism. but the Freemasons endured the longest. and the sciences. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. 1617). the same time that saw Fludd’s publication of his History by de Bry saw his publication also of two treatises in Latin defending the “Fraternity of the Rosy Cross. his father. Martianus Capella and. Of course. of course. Indeed. to a speculative. and although
. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all.” published in Leiden. not surprisingly. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building.80
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
cathedrals of medieval Europe. Indeed. 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. semireligious occult fraternity. the Kabbalah. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. in 1616 and 1617. Sir Thomas Fludd. Such publication was. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. Jewish. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. and during this time began work on his major treatises. John’s College in Oxford. on which he explicitly drew. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. Plato and the Bible. Robert Fludd went to St. having received a knighthood for his military service. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. Masonry. 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 having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. Fludd. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. the arts. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. of course. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. Like Paracelsus himself. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism.
. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. born to an aristocratic family. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. and back to England. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply.60 Then again. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford.”61 But for our purposes. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. Dee’s son. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. 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. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes.” Elias Ashmole. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. and assiduous bibliophile. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. John Dee. Himself an alchemist. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. But in any event. Dr. Marin Mersenne. 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. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. 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. By the early 1630s. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. Arthur Dee. astrologer. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. almost exclusively for esoteric causes.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. Ashmole. 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. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined.
was not simply an antiquarian.82
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Ashmole. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. one could ignore it. the real . of course. and must remain so. after recording this revelation. and John Comenius (1592–1690). himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. although certainly that impulse was strong in him.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670).”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. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. never referred to it again. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. of course. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. .” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. . but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. and only philosophers of the English Revolution. but they are in any case gnostic. John Dury (1596–1680). Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. except to his own spiritual son. or as Kabbalistic. The true name is hidden. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia.62 Backhouse’s father. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . using a symbolic metalanguage. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. Samuel. were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. It is significant that Ashmole. .” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. . All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). All of this. when Backhouse thought he was dying. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany
. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651.64 These three men.
. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. Freemasonry. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. 4. .”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. according to the Constitutions. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . Chymical. Such a language. 2. Arts and Sciences. However. The aim of a magical language is. like the symbolism of alchemy. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism.” certainly a pansophic goal. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. Philosophicall.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
and in England. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. . . which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. Early in the eighteenth century. 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. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. 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. 3. needless to say. Also important here is the third point. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language.
. and as Edmond Mazet remarks.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. But most important for us is the final point. and Mechanical. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries.
and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. with its general tendency to reject. a theosophic circle in London. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. England. fellow craftsman. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years .67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. deism. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. announced in Ramsay’s oration. especially in France. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). Ramsay. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. had an exoteric. In it. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. great. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. On the other hand. for instance. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. and indeed.84
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry.
.68 Within Masonry itself. excepting only theology and politics. it is not surprising that this project. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. or ignore esotericism. nonsectarian basis. 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. including. . solid. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. In this oration. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. Masonic values of rationalism. suppress. luminous. . consisting in three degrees of apprentice. And during this time. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. and master mason. became prominent in French Masonry. On the one hand. especially in England. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. The work has already been commenced in London. After her death. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. fraternal Freemasonry. while publishing numerous books. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. Italy. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany.
yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. Freemasonry. by which. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. Rosicrucian.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. 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. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. In the Graham manuscript of 1726.
. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. As we have already seen. that is. I answer it was God in six Terminations. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. of human and divine architecture both.8). God has sealed the six directions of space. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. Indeed. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. and six for the fellow craft. to wit I am. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. specifically. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. which is as follows: one word for a divine. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly.”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. In other words.” In other words. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. even to this day. based as it is on the craft of building. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. theosophic. six for the clergy.
All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. What is more. Here. pansophy.
. 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. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. Finally. of course. not consume it. and the divine. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. For according to Western esotericism generally. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. Masonry. its secret “silable. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. but as the actual medium linking humanity. not just as the means of communication among people. and Christian theosophy. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. Rosicrucianism. the theme of our next section. magic. And this role is played out through reading and writing. nature. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp.86
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. Kabbalah. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. including humanity).” or signature. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. including alchemy. Above all. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. in Western esotericism. Here.
Figure 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( F r a n k f u r t : 1 6 1 8 ) .
Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r.
. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .
Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.). Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.
. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.). Theosophia Revelata.
.Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.
O p u s M a g o . Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund.
.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph.
Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration.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. as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye. (Frankfurt: 1784).
.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o .
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.
. “The Music of Dawn. and the evocative. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work.
“Paradise.” 1976.Figure 10
dwell In this bare island by your spell. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Or sent to Naples. the magician Prospero. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. The main character. has brought the play’s action to an end. Now I want Spirits to enforce. The Tempest. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. Which was to please. And pardoned the deceiver. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. or else my project fails. And what strength I have’s my own. Which is most faint.3
P R O S P E R O ’ S WA N D : M O D E R N E S O T E R I C L I T E R AT U R E In the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults
. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands.
for instance. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. Here Prospero. To be a vehicle for the right words. often little more than the accumulation of data. Initially. and words—often Hebrew. to sing or to say into being. it is often inverted and does not
. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. also a magician. today. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. for most of us. but there is no transference of magical power. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. pansophy. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. E. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. winged creature in an ornate room. In all of these esoteric traditions. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. traditionally. Conventionally.88
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Mercy itself and frees all faults. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. In this most magical of plays. in effect gives his wand to his audience. Let your indulgence set me free. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. having relinquished his magical power. to invoke the forces of creation itself. as audience. where the poet-singer is. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. shows a tall. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. to the audience. That is. is a prosaic matter. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. and freed him. standing above a reclining woman. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. via the main character.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. letters. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. Reading. for example. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. are the magicians. there are numbers. is to touch the nature of being itself. by virtue of his skill with words. Suddenly. and Freemasonry. Warlick. we realize that we. Here. To incant is to enchant. Rosicrucianism. As you from crimes would pardoned be. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. we may read in order to gather information about a subject.
Canticle of Knowledge: O. sometimes explicitly. Here. as with Emerson or Rilke. for instance. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
seem to convey a particular kind of esoteric understanding. V. sometimes more implicitly. D. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. D. the poet H. I will leave such a project for another time. S. and entry. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. V. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. third. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. turning then to H. as with Yeats or H. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. with sections on each of the major currents. split further into sections on poetry and prose. horizontal survey is of value.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. more
. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. to the magical fiction of C. during which time his family sold their estate. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. his mother Jewish. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa.. as can in fact be said of the works of. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. But his learning is of a particular kind. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. of even greater value is a vertical. (1886–1961). not only in the case of Ernst. more or less. for instance. D. After a good education. and so I will not discuss them further here. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). While a broad. However. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. secular or not. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. into the world of French intelligentsia. Milosz traveled widely. Naturally. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. and perhaps for someone else to do. It is certainly worth doing. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order.
and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. and the dwelling places of spirits. hell. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. in vision. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. S. Eliot. for that matter. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. which are what concern us here. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. Then. as he saw it. Milosz’s poetry. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism.
. he experienced a spiritual illumination. of heaven. Swedenborg was. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. These Swedenborg saw. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). and became. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. in 1914. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. Kabbalah. William Blake (1757–1827). and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. come to fruition in literary form. Not so Milosz. One can.” However. and both wrote in dry. 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. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. and.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. also a tactile visionary. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. a Don Juanesque figure. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. create a kind of lineage of such figures. Goethe. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. theosophy. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. in fact. Among these figures. and perhaps remains. and Western esotericism in general. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader.
seems called upon. through a new metaphysics.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. from the cosmos.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. on 14 December 1914. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. on reçu et savent déjà. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. and especially the figures we are discussing here. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. / Others. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. will understand nothing of these things. n’entendront rien à ces choses. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. that he anticipated a new poetry. seems bound.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. but indeed.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. summarizing in some respects his life’s work.]”7
. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. [For those who. Cartographers of consciousness. But the poet. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. The canticle continues: “A ceux. the passionate pursuit of the Real. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Here it may be useful to remark on the kind of new science we see emerging in these writers.”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. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. to awakening it in his reader. and also prehistory and archaic history. and especially in Milosz. as the organizer of archetypes. ayant demandé. qui. knowledge and love. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. de science et d’amour. the observer looks outward. and like Blake. crown of human knowledge.” which. have received and already know. At this juncture. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. astronomy. thieves of joy and pain. having asked. / Les autres. to join up with ancient teachings. les voleurs de douleur et de joie.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. and in particular.” telling us that “poetry. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination.
light. soleil. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil.” writing that to understand the origin of language. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. to the initiate. water. but negators. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. not like “Patmos. he continues. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg.]”9 In other words. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. sel. lumière. “meditation on the origin of language.”8 This gnostic canticle is. sang. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. ni les fils. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. etc.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. from Pythagoras to Plato.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. sun. of course. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of
.” Indeed. 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.” 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]. as well as the names of metals. In fact. those who are not affirmers. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. darkness.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here.92
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. and already know. but living. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. addressed to the latter. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. are merely thieves of love and knowledge.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. But characteristically. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire].” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. this “situated place. but it is not so. earth. but truly fathers of sensible objects. eau. salt.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. nor sons.” We think that the sensible world is situated. have received. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. blood. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. terre.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. ténèbres.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. / For these names are neither brothers. “their substance is nameless. 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.
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. .” Simply that. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
existence. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). he calls us to the celestial gold. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. for as he told us before. .” “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. mute as lead. Milosz speaks to us directly: “Do you feel the most ancient of your memories awakening in you? / I reveal to you here the holy origins of your love of gold.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. is the “key to the world of light. he implicates us in the poem. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum.]”13 As we might recall. Adam. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. a revelation.” There is the earthly gold. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. Here. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. At such points.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. when Milosz addresses us directly. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. or in Milosz’s words. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. . that is. of blessing and of desolation. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. Milosz exultantly writes. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. Milosz tells us again. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. muet comme le plomb. he tells us. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. and the gold of celestial memory. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. of love and of wrath. and only describes what he has seen. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. And so it is here. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. of the primal
. . [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man.” This distinction between truth and lie.
” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. this immense. innocent.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. and a kind of corporeality of language.” “the world of profound.” We might recall that the mirror. wise. in theosophic tradition.” an “eternity of horror. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. Milosz tells us. hideux. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. différent. and looked behind him. Luciferic brain]. [I am always in the same place. not light and serenity of recognition.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. different. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. but “great trials of negation.]”16 See. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. le seul situé. In the concluding lines of the canticle. hideous. “the Father of Ancients. Milosz writes. Milosz muses on his early poetry. of light and darkness. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. Thus. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation.” and “marrow of iniquity. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. and this is the “solar egg. we find a spiritual corporeality.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation.]” Then one day.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. in the visionary writings of Böhme.” selfknowing. for that matter. and is the province of those who speak pure language. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un
. chaste archetypes.” “immense.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. / étant dans le lieu même. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum.” those “lands of nocturnal din.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. rather. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. / being in place itself. the only one situated.”15 Here we find. delirious. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. / played with me as a father with his child. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. of those who speak pure language.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance.
and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. tender metal partners in marriage. but refers to an inner alchemy. Thus the canticle. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. you speak the truth. Beatrix. innocents! [The parents sleep there. je te touche le front. to “tender metal partners in marriage. is especially of interest to us here.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. [1775–1802]). trois vois—le signe. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là.]”
. par la grâce de la vue du milieu.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang.” is unquestionably alchemical. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. [Dear child.” replies Beatrix. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. Qu’ils sont beaux. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. let us make the sign. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. I touch your brow. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. at its end. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. and since we have now known one another seven years. and clothed with the sun. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. This poem. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. and his Hymns to the Night. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. tendres métaux époux. between the lightworld and the darkworld. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. and for our three days to come. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. “Master. le signe! [seven times for the past. 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. again three times. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. et pour nos trois jours à venir.
the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. he comes back to life. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. of course. Beatrix. yellow. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. “I believe it is. The Master forgives me. is reborn!” Thus once again. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth.]”21 It is. He opens his eyes and is reborn. 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. partaking rather of a heightened. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy.96
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
The language here is completely that of Hermeticism: indeed.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. charitée. [My chains of constellations are broken. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. charity. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. and to its incantory language. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. but a player on the poet’s inner stage.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes.” while the “oil of blind corruption. but the adept replies. And in the conclusion of the poem. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. The adept watches.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. tu te délivres. you liberate yourself. The woman in the poem. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. leaden and lachrymal. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. Beatrice. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. any more than are those of the adept. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. white and pale blue. [It is life liberated. “I see only one.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée.” sinks to the depths. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. and black. I tell you.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. and “Lumière de l’or. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. The alchemical
. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. woman. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. [Light of gold. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy.
He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them.
. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. 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. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. rests in a horizontal position. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is.: initiate].” and that “In the author’s mind. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. 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. perfectly awake. is also to participate in it. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. by Milosz. by a metallic red-hot egg. a light appears. then? Undoubtedly.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
work. the large cloud vanishes. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. 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. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. or rather. as unemotional as nature. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. At the same instant.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. in other words.” a “faithful and pious narrative. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. after all. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. one senses vast expanses around one. The incantory. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. oneself. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. in what it reveals.”22 To whom does this legacy belong.” The line is the fourth verse.
referring to the reader as “my son. he is among the most erudite of poets. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. It is perhaps useful. becomes rounder. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. And authentic literature.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. scientifically. its secular hedonism and materialism. we must bow down. He insists that in order to understand. but this lengthy excerpt is sufficient to show that even a single rather mundane line in Milosz’s poetry has behind it far more experiential referents than we might ever have expected. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. on which it alights like a crown. and in this there is a kind of reversal. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. just as he ignores and despises that world. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. because it springs from this archetypal reality. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. stands still. moving up a little. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. meaning the archetypal realm. its brutal mass wars. Such experience is of the truly situated. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. 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. thereafter. yet his erudition. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. Milosz
. Without question. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience.23 There is still more. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation.98
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Turning into a golden globe. one may even say.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. at this point. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. though including many great poets. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. that. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world.
Swedenborg.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. sought in them peace of spirit.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
wrote in a letter that he would like to lecture on a subject he knew thoroughly: “hermetic metaphysics and doctrines. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. the School of Alexandria. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. Swedenborg. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. Martinez de Pasqually. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal.” recalling to us Milosz’s earlier poems and to his imagery of alchemical inner marriage and the revelation of divine Wisdom as the feminine spouse. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem.” 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.” and
. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. 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.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. passing through the Pre-Socratics.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. Eugène Ledrain. from Egypt up to today. Claude de Saint Martin.” Milosz continued. [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. Plato. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. alias René Descartes. the mystical eighteenth century. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star].”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. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism.
King of the unified world. my son. Le Forestier. R. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. In his “Poem of the Arcana. 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. as early as 1919. Joseph de Maistre.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. and the true poet. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. and art. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. King of the Unified World. that the work of the coming poet is to be a “crowning” of the New Testament as the latter was a crowning of the Old: “It is not a book. . and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. the universal regent of faith. Milosz held. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. the visionary poet.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. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. 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. Eliot. it is not books that we are waiting for. and Savoy. Milosz tells of his visionary experience.” which are far more extensive than anything T. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. for instance. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. if we may coin a word. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. words.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. in short. science. in 1938. Under the heading “Hiram. inside the books of life and of knowledge. and several other historians of the brotherhoods in their research on the origins of an institution which claims to descend from the Essenes and from the Priests of the Holy
. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. . Germany. S. Here. the books open themselves to him.” in fact. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. Hiram. and books. wrote for his poetry. . but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work.
31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. like spirit and matter. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. “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. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs
.”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.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. Religion and science.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Sepulchre. He writes that “Today. especially the dream of a world utopia.’ announce their impending appearance. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. who announced a coming millennium. like all the continents and all the states of this world. alias René Descartes. as we have seen. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. Indeed. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa.” Here. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. relatively not distant.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature.”32 Here.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. he brings in the theme that. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.34 And Milosz goes on to ask.” 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. aspire to holy unification. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising.
however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. sought the widest possible range. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). and that he deliberately. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. In his work.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. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. of political. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. For us. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. in his letter to James Chauvet. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. with a white collar. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. author of The Magus. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. de Lubicz. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. being the Christ-figure. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. however. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. and scientific fusion.”39 These dreams of universality.” And in his little esoteric group. in his work as in his private life. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. Milosz wrote. Our group will have no more than twelve members. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. as we have seen. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). for instance. the other members being his apostles. The Master alone will wear a red cap. moral or social. the “science of the divine. And there are numerous other such examples. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. not to say grandiosity. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. religious. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. I am the enemy of exteriorization. the sciences.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. but explicitly Christian.”38 Such a group.
. of course. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. and the arts via religion.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. among them its ritual dress.
astrology. but toward the future. D. Like Prospero in his final speech. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. Charles Williams. D. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. through his writing. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. magic. D. numerology.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Milosz is. 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. D. D. the poet H. C. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. D. today.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. Lewis. the Tarot. and a new golden age. and essays. novels. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. we
. However. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. Although we here will take our leave of them. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H.. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. not toward the present. Indeed. Rosicrucianism. of course. S.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. and Milosz. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century.’s life and interests. There are. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. In these efforts. Indeed. but also for the universality of his aims. a relatively obscure figure. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies.’s poetry. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). psychic insights or visions. and Kathleen Raine. That H. which outlines the intertwining of H. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. little studied in academe.
H. D. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. Here.
But when we begin to look at H. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. Margaret Fuller. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. D. D. save that in H. H. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. however. by recognizing that H.’s life it is repeated a number of times. for H. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919).’s early.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. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. overmind. For it seems clear from her poetry. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). explicitly esoteric book.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. D. Likewise.. was fascinated by numerology. D. D. as many critics have observed. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. “The Thistle and the Serpent. D. In Esoteric Origins.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. We should begin. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. D. astrology. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. D. like H. Notes is a very unusual work. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. and on the other Margaret Fuller. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening.. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. D. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. a cap of consciousness
.”41 Although the major works by H. mind. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. D. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. In his introduction to H. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. D.
now.”43 H.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. As we read on through Notes. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . with the gulls and the sky and the earth. H. . She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context.” The minds of the lovers unite. or anemone. a nonsectarian. is a gnostic with a small g. jelly-fish.42 H. indeed. contained in a defininte space. H. and perhaps when she concludes by conjoining Christ and Dionysius in a poetic vision of their unity with the divine mother as with all of nature. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. one must. engage in a union of love and intellect. and third is the awakening into the overmind. except through the intellect. H. yet make one picture. as primary to the true artist. . those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. like water. D. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. She places gnosis. . as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. syncretic
. or awakening into the overmind. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. second is the life of the intellect. fluid yet with definite body. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. which is possible for all. D. perceive separately. Into that over-mind. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. D. a musician. D. That overmind seems a cap.’s work has feminist implications. It is like a closed sea-plant. . There are even traces here of Gnosticism. She writes that to be a true artist.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. transparent. Without doubt. The two work separately. D.’s expectation of a few in the coming generation with the secret of the overmind reminds us of Milosz’s expectation of a coming initiate for whom his work is intended. a musician. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. 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. She does write about a “vision of the womb. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. Whatever else we may make of it. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
over my head. my forehead. affecting a little my eyes .” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. I visualise it just as well.
’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. / born of one mother. boasting. devour.” H. . . criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. / companions / of the flame. H. D. is a false path. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. Amen. seek further.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. / jottings of psychic numerical equations.” And the section ends with “illusion. as these entities are “healers.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. dare more. the overmind being above it.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. was lost in sea-depth. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. spell.” we “nameless initiates.47 In M.” “arrogance.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. over-confidence. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. for instance. unlocked. reversion of old values.”48 All of this suggests that there is
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
gnostic whose primary emphasis is nonsectarian spiritual awakening. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. D. D. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways.” here. D. prayer” for healing. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. In Notes on Thought and Vision. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. seek. In this respect.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . pitiful reticence. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. she holds. E. and H. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. madness. helpers / of the One.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. / oneness lost. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy.” She writes.” mind “floundered. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. / here is the alchemist’s key. All-father. / it unlocks secret doors. D.”45 “Amen. She writes “dare.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension.” In the next section. Here. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. of the “alchemist’s secret.” “Tribute to the Angels.” H. too. this. D.
The next work in H.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. H. D.’s invocation of Hermes.” whose “province is thought. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. continues. little boxes. too little affirmation.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. In a well-known passage. / inventive. H. D.”
. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes.”50 Here H. D. D.” “invoke the true-magic. illuminate what came after. conditioned to hatch butterflies . “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. D. . with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. this has been proved heretical. then writes: We have had too much consecration. but also those who come after her. too little: I know. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. / lead us back to the one-truth. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. cryptograms. this. / re-vivify the eternal verity. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”.” “candle and script and bell. “patron of alchemists. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. D. artful and curious. . symbols of Psyche reborn. but this. she is calling herself to a sacred task. The words themselves may resemble boxes. they are anagrams. devoid of life. too much.”49 Thus. this passage suggests the complexity. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation.” through painting or writing. / in the light of what went before.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
a wrong path. I feel the meaning that words hide. H.
after all. D.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there).” but re-awakened. H. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. recreated by the poet. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. indivisible Spirit. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. in the high-altar of a ruined building. so too can the poet be. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine
. we saw the tree flowering.52 These lines reveal many layers. I testify. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. the poet must “melt down and integrate. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. saw. D. like a ghost. is attempting in her poetry here. was writing these poems. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. John. how is it you come so near. we entered a house through a wall. reinvoked in a new form. D. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. it was an ordinary tree. in an old garden-square. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. the shattered glass of the past. and so too by implication can we be.” One must “reinvoke. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. H. the conditions under which.108
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
This. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. D. H.
bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions.’s poetry in general. / .” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. / it was a sign. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. D. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. with Saint Michael. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine
. and even more overtly. music could do nothing with it. D. D.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. nothing whatever.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
revelation. 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.’s vision.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. the divine feminine. D. Hence H. is a gnosis of the word. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. symbol of Hermes. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. In it. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression.’s “Tribute to the Angels. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. In H. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. the flowering of the wood. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. D. . one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. / it was the Holy Ghost—. . alluded to. In this context. D. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself.” This experience “was vision. the next section is very important.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. H. H. it is happening everywhere.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. / the darkness of ignorance. and Trilogy in particular.’s poetry. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. This experience. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. And this experience is gnosis. conveyed through the poetry.
D. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed.’s Trilogy.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. D.’s own heritage.” she of the Bona dea. and the thief. the thief.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. It would be a mistake to presume that because H.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. Hermes is the patron of the artist. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. and that. to her astonishment.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. the writer. who is also redeemed. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania.. 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. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. D. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. for H. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. / who did not forego our heritage” . And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. obviously. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood.” This refrain. D. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book.” H. Sophianic spirituality was in H. They are not. right into the final poem. D.” “Santa Sophia. D. and H. / out of the cocoon. She who has been seen “the world over.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. the butterfly. the Bible. under her “drift of veils. the scribe.” And She is also “Psyche. as we will see in more detail shortly. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition.” 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.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. was a baptized Moravian. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. D. Rather. whether it is con-
. D. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. in the context of the three poems together. And She is “Holy Wisdom. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. brought into paradise with Christ.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context.” “she carried a book. allied to Mercury also.
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. S. H. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. complete with H. It is not surprising. D. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. of mysticism. What is more. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. D. The Gift. Hermes and Christ. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. D. we must turn to The Gift. Eve and Mary. H. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. that until 1998. I suppose. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation.” with the experience of Christ. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its
. To understand this mysticism more fully.” all are interwoven here. D. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. In her poetry. B.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. H. Likewise. unabridged version of her novel The Gift.’s own notes. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. Eliot and W. fear. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. H. 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. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. D. however.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
venient for the reader’s ideology or not. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. as in the original. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book.
make clear this distinction. in the middle of the eighteenth century. D. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous .” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. though I must confess. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. in
. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. D. Linde. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. Knapton. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. H.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. 1755). Rimius’s works.” or Jedediah Weiss. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. D. D. Mysticism. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. cited by H. D. was herself a baptized Moravian. . Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. 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. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. H. D. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. especially those now housed at Yale University. Pennsylvania. & P. In toto.”58 About such accusations. In other words. had done her research. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. “Old Father Weiss. it was in fact in her blood. Robinson. Pennsylvania. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. itself. and he was born in Bethlehem.112
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
earliest years. D. 1753). as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. 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. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. her grandmother’s father.” of the “Arcana. 1794). . in her notes. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. H. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. 1909). Rimius. We can see the extent and depth of H. 1753). D. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. H.
D. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. in short. to initiate the reader.” She goes on:
.. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
my own day. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. respected and highly respectable. conventionally the church. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . 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 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. writes. The Moravian Church.. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. The novel. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. Mother. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. and its doctrines as representing a pure. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. We were a small community.”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. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. referring to Father. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. and Son. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. it does exist. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. Hilda. there was no hint of this exoticism. D. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. into The Gift. “you just stumble on it.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. D. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. but also of the older poet H. D. D. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ.” H. 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. .
while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. Rather. A word opens a door . later learning it means Island of Wounds). . it is what the novel does for H. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. and even here in her narrative. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. I mean. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. I mean.60 This concept of a word opening a door into the lives of one’s ancestors and into spiritual mysteries is at the very center of The Gift. but there are no bees in it now. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. that is why it is so quiet. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. D. it is like that little flower that Mrs. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women.” she told Hilda. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. as some scholars seem to think. These spiritual mysteries are not. . . . In chapter 5 of The Gift. Hilda surmises. The word is like a bee-hive. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. the word stops. in some aspects of the story. “Christian had left the Secret with me. these are the keys.” The first is when Mamalie. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that
. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. The other bees have gone. 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. 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. this is the game I play. considerably more of this theme to unpack. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. . cut on a wall at Karnak. . Island of Wonders. Then am I for a moment . That is how it is. but Hilda (and along with her. Williams called a primula. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. “The Secret. Egyptian .114
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
It is like matching beads. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. indeed. Hilda’s grandmother. But there is more. A word opens a door. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). But really “live” it. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. men play a greater role than women.
done in their picture-writing.” This scroll. D. bore the names of Cammerhof. indeed. had a name for.” not just Minne-ha-ha. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. though. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. is not Europe but North America. Pyrlaeus. According to Mamalie. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. Hebrew. of snow swirling. it was the laughter of the water.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. This rapport is historically verifiable. . laughing all the time. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician.63 In The Gift. but this was untrue. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. said Mamalie. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. though. She and her
. Mamalie continues.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. of wind.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters.” “the laughter of leaves. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. this laughter that ran over us.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
[reportedly] had been destroyed and obliterated by the Inquisition. the answer given by the Spirits. but all of them. altogether.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. “like scales running up and down.62 Like the Templars. it is not a confabulation of H. in particular the Shawnee. so that “It was laughing. kept in a birch-bark case. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. . chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. was to decide the future of the whole country .’s. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. Greek.
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. called “New Gnadenhütten. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. in an even more attenuated form. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. domination.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. Mamalie. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. Christian Seidel. In 1755.”69 The two worlds have become one. In her notes. having “burnt it up.
. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. And yet in the very final passages. those hiding in the attic burned alive.116
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
young husband. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. or Wounded Island. D. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. even refers to the American David Williamson. The Gift. And in a subsequent event. who was to die at twenty-five.” as “Aryan. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. At the novel’s conclusion. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. H.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. 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. decoded it and she played it. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. and then.” 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. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. said in her fragmented narrative. 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. Wunden Eiland.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. raining down terror from the skies.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination.
In her profoundly ambitious works. D. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. D. H. H.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. H. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. for instance. singing of the Wounds. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. In her poetry and fiction. D.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. In this context. Likewise.
. not merely as decorations.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. both poetic and fictional. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves.V. past and present. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. and future continually intermingle.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. as well as of timelessness and time.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. her work suggests that past. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
In England. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. H.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. As we have seen. there. But above all.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. 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.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. the more deeply one looks into her works. D. H. and out of which all great work is generated.’s English present.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. Indeed. but as integral to her work. one of the original Moravian initiates. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. Her interest in spiritualism. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. Among major twentiethcentury authors. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. D. present.
’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. meeting and parting. whom we invoke as Lucifer. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. Mystery and a portent. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. H. H. but at the same time. yes. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. has the same root derivation as Seraph. but it was only in her later work that we see it. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. Lilith. After his death. legendary Provence. Vale Ave. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. Elizabeth recalls him to her. and contemporary London. as Adam. We cannot conclude without reference to H. D. as history tells us. through time—specifically. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. the Light-bringer. The Lucifer-Lilith. late Rome. to be sure. and its implications. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. may be Angel or Devil. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. early seventeenth-century England. although: I hardly knew my Lord. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. through her fiction and through her poetry. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. D.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. in his pre-Eve manifestation. D. parted in the dark. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. outlined in entirety.71
. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. true we had met in sudden frenzy.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. dynastic Egypt.
this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements.” and again through it “I had the answer.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Obviously.” the holy presences withdraw. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift.” 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.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. I would like to explore not the art of magic. Her poetry and her prose. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . But my
. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. the Writing. that of ‘initiatory fiction’—novels and short stories whose evident purpose is to take the reader along into new and perhaps unfamiliar kinds of consciousness. here again “the words laugh. D. The dead are living still. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day.’s lifetime of work.” the mysteries of the holy well. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction. “the Mystery. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. . Of course. the “springs gone under the hill. Here.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams. D. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible. taken in toto. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. as in poetry.73
Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. 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. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. and the Scroll. / infinity portrayed in simple things. 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.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information.
R. here. His main character.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams.” says Ransom. seems reasonable enough in theory. invokes the Oyéresu. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced.” But later in the same essay. fay or mortal. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical.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. or pretends to produce. R. Here. an alteration in the Primary World.” “Their naked power. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. things are not nearly so clear cut. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. J. John Ransom. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. the “true powers of Heaven. and Charles Williams).” replies Ransom. it remains distinct from the other two. Viritrilbia.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. Magic produces.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. and so forth. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. “That is why they will work only through a man. R. its desire is power in this world. they will unmake all Middle Earth. it is not an art but a technique. “The Descent of the Gods.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. S. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. C. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. “one who by his own will once opened it.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. as one might imagine. J. C. between the production of an artistic “Secondary World” and a work whose purpose is also “alteration in the Primary World”? It would seem that in reality these two can coëxist in a single work. S. domination of things and wills. and the descrip-
. yes. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. saying “I have become a bridge.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. when we turn to actual works. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. R. Tolkien.” “Sir. what will come of this?” asks Merlin.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. Lewis.” which might best be translated as “magic. Let us take an example. or Venus. or Mercury.
ready to kill. They thought it would burn their bones. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. . They could not bear that it should continue. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. sweet-scented and full of desire. were it possible. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. where the invocation has its center. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. ready to die. . They were blinded.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
tion of this event is one of the most extraordinary evocations of magical working in literature.” the narrator tells us. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. scorched. calling down the powers. sticky gums . To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. in which none other than the ancient
. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. They could not bear that it should end.” “He would have known sensuously. They experience “needle-pointed desires. sharp. outspeeding light: it was Charity . lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. unmitigated. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. brisk merriments. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. and the Blue Room. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. But I would like to step back for a moment from the chapter’s narration and consider again Tolkien’s proposed differentiation between enchantment and magic. . “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . such a distinction does not hold up well at all. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. In this chapter.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. bright and ruthless. .” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. . here.”80 It is not really possible. . In the beginning of the chapter. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house.”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. until his outraged senses forsook him. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. deafened. that the visitants in that room were in it not because they were at rest but because they glanced and wheeled through the packed reality of Heaven . . .
and the Director (Dr. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. and one with Merlin and Ransom). “Obviously it was high time she went in. Therefore
. in a “secondary world” of fiction. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. About Williams’s novels. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. of course. though one could easily imagine it so. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. The invocation takes place. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. In so doing. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. rather like Elijah or King Arthur.” the seventeenth chapter. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. and by its end.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other.”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. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. she sees that clothes are piled inside. In other words. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. Anne’s. 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.122
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
magician Merlin participates. but he always maintains a link with mundane life even at the heart of the magical working itself (by way of the device of two rooms. one with ordinary people.
then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . 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. By doing so. in general. For that. It was not written for its entertainment value. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. one is also encountering new realms of existence. they reveal forms of necromancy. for instance. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. Who and what is Lilith. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. and her observations are revealing. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. . and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
some may feel depressed or repulsed by the down side of his books and their evocation of the essence of evil. On the other hand. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. to find out what it was about. in fact. not find it very entertaining. [Emphasis added. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. and insist on appearing again? Have I furnished myself with a dark familiar?83 Here Fortune gives voice to exactly the theme we are here investigating: how the writing of a book can be a magical act. they unveil the power of archetypes and. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. In effect they are initiations. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. I have put a great deal into it. I am afraid. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. and how therefore the reader is in
. for in the act of reading. 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. and decidedly corrupt ones. I wrote it. almost cathartic effect. . Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. [Emphasis added.
and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. 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. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them.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. badly lit and ill-tended room. I made the astral projection by the usual method. but Fortune was. The magic worked. who is Moloch. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. which is the dark side of the Moon. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. and imagined myself speaking to him. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. It does not matter to me what it is called. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. In some respects. She gave rise to the character Lilith. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. the side She turns away from earth. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. putting my cards on the table.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. a shabby. not surprisingly. and I seemed to be in a strange room. like all of her
. for it is effectual. In the novel’s seventh chapter. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. Fortune’s novel. magicians call it magic. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. untidy. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. 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. 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. after all. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. that is to say. appears clearly in her novels.
Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. Rhodes.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion.”85 And so the book concludes. for I was one with them . 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. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). but perhaps most interestingly. I was no longer alone. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection.” 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. one will recall.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. . a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. After his entry into the Unseen. at the end of the story. Rhodes. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. . who represents the voice of the ordinary observer.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
fiction. to “enter the Unseen. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. and many others. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. Not only were they alive. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. 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. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. like Taverner. I had passed over into the Unseen. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. 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. Thus Rhodes. for. The Secrets of Dr. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. a fellow named Fouldes. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. but I shared in their life. was consummately the logician. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. Marius.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. a young woman named Ursula
. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. Taverner. “in all things there was a profound difference. As a character.
. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley.126
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Brangwyn. but then Murchison. . ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. Frost and Wither are without mercy. The girl he could do nothing for. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. ‘so that’s that. a bear of a man. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. In That Hideous Strength. breaking the embarrassing silence. banked and double-banked. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. they are without morality. they were getting it in the neck. and in another moment the room was empty .’ said Brangwyn. ‘That is very much that. and.’ ‘Yes. like Astley in The Winged Bull.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. ‘Well. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. among them men named Frost and Wither.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. and her half-brother. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. . pure selfishness.’ replied Murchison. . of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. but also logically. The strange. Of the two books. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. cold and merciless. suddenly. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. Yet paradoxically. there are also depraved black magicians.’ Brangwyn concluded. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. . an experienced magician. He was experienced in dealing with such things.
he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). Williams. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. In all of the fiction we are considering here. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. There is. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening.90
.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. 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. . This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. powers both good and evil. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. but that also go beyond seeing into nature.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
This is not merely a cliché: in order for the magical drama to go forward. Taverner. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. helped by appropriate texts. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. Lewis. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. . But Charles Williams and even C. in this kind of fiction. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. and finally the Society of the Inner Light.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. either alone. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. Whether or not a disciple has a master. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. experience of magic. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . and Fortune. and thanks to that. 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. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. or with the help of an initatory. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. but later called the Community of the Inner Light.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. S. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school.
then. since in the fiction we have been discussing. In fact. 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. 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. Finally. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. Second. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic.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.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. Third. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. Such a tension corresponds. active imagination is essential. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. thoroughly real. in literary form. if we may so put it.
. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. Williams.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First.” What conclusions can we draw. one is to some degree at least “refashion[ing] the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe” just as the neophyte character Wilfred Maxwell is transmuted by his magical work with the character Vivien Le Fay Morgan. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians.” and thus to written works like novels. Indeed. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities.
visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. there remain fundamental differences. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. Theosophic illustrations in particular. angelic realm. 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. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. indirectly or directly. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). higher aspects of nature and humanity. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. transcendent and perhaps. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent..
Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. and his writings reveal in detail his
. 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. but also in Böhmean theosophy. an important and genuinely original British painter. Collins was a gifted aphorist. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. and that like his contemporary poet. held in London’s Tate Gallery. which is why I have chosen to study them together.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
The authors we have considered here knew or knew of one another. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. in the sense of Rilke. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. Still. E. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. As we have already seen. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. but with the publication of this book. 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. Thus. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images.
I know of your existence. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. I long for my kingdom. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. Our time denies. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians
. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. for Collins. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. one is placed in contact with another reality through them.95 In 1965. the contemplative. the human being. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. we are all exiles.130
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
worldview. [14 January. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. 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. A frustration of all that which is growing. I long for my race.” Ordinary life in the natural world.” or again.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. 1945. and my life with you. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. But you exist. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. and I know nothing. Denies the artist. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. Totnes.” 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 all that which desires to give. In “Hymn of Life. I remember you. for he must ‘leap the gaps. But here I wander. denies all who have inward fruit. to come to fruition. is imbued always with spiritual significance. A winter of the spirit is over all society.’ must make intellectual connections individually. of his solitary walks in the countryside. By reading Collins’s aphorisms.
“How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. by description. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. awaken this inner rapport in us. 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. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. rapport. . and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. and the making of money. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. but only by rapport with those worlds. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. . They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. in Collins’s view. This is the same thing actually.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. by measurement or analysis.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. In his essay “Art and Modern Man.] 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.
. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. 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[.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate. For like answers to like and creates actualization .97 Works of art. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. the meaning. It can only be known by inner nuance.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. The value of the artist is not to decorate. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man.
in Collins’s view. and that is the eye of the heart. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. We are all apt to fall asleep.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. ‘Everything that lives is holy. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. widened. . in Collins’s view. and what is more. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. canonic language. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. trees. rocks. in a “time of the apocalypse. he writes. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things.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[. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. and transmuted.98 The work of art. of mere desires. the elements. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. We live. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. the opening of man’s inner nature. we have no canonic culture of our own. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. .” 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. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. canonical religions and ritual. spiritu-
. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. religious. the answer comes back to us from within them. his inner world. the unveiling of the atom. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. In the past. we have communion with it[. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. it becomes qualitative.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. But there is something else that has to be opened. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental.” In his final remarks.’ In other words.
In many of his later paintings. an active support. landscape is transformed as well. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. the figures’ eyes are opened. make it bleed. not afraid to wound the heart. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. landscape. and the other with the light. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. 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. To gaze at this painting is to
. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. in “The Invocation. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. but that is uplifting and paradisal. as in many of his visionary paintings. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. Many of these images have a strange. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. like “Angels” (1948). to the left the orb of the sun. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell.” 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. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. a union of figure. Often. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. hieratic quality. dreamlike. by patterns on the limbs and torso. such as “The Invocation” (1944). the one with the sword. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. Here. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. and vibrant color. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. 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. that we may share each other’s creative response to life.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
ally. too. her head bent back and contemplative. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988).
In all of these works. Poems. Indeed. In another book. and indeed. H. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. we then have ‘sacred space. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. that like Milosz. chair. not least because his work includes not only images. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. In this respect.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. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. Lost paradise and
.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. D.’ sacred images. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). aphorisms. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. And it is also clear. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. and poems that illuminate his paintings. he offers through his paintings. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. but also essays. so that God becomes a table. he is like very few other painters. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. D... a world between us and it. . dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. by which we make contact with reality through images . Meditations. Here. Divine Reality.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. his drawings. Collins wrote in this book. but central. in Collins’s view. But Collins offers these through visual images. or altar. . like an electrical transformer. as in the works of Milosz and H. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well.
the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. for instance. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. and awakening gnosis. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. First. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions.
THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. or way of affirmation. of course. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. these are the themes of these great artists. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
the restoration of paradise. to the conjunction of spirituality. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. or way of negation. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. Strictly speaking. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. but rather. science. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. what we find is in fact the via negativa. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. as a means of transmitting knowledge. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. It is. For in our overview of Western esotericism. and the arts in written form. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. Thus our third point: that
. or mere entertainment. the way of images and forms and transformations. as Dionysius himself points out. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. although they may contain an element of play. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. and the via negativa.
but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. Western esoteric traditions. and so on. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. the divine. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. sometimes called by Böhme the
. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. And Western esoteric literature. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity.’ the divine. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious.136
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
in the Western esoteric traditions. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. Rather. psychology. and the divine. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. plant extracts. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. chemistry. geology. D. or Symbols.’ quantifiable knowledge. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. In a modern worldview. the cosmos. history. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. between the human and natural realms. sociology. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. and there is sheer transcendence. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. ‘third element. Here is the essential division between a modern. In modern education. between humanity and the cosmos. Ideas. hidden. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. works only by reference to this third element. there is only the division between self and other. on the other hand. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. But in Western esoteric traditions.
One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. and literary expression. often seen as androgynous. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. a theologian. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. In brief. meaning by that not absence. a divine mathematics. or any of the other major esoteric currents. in order to create. and by others the Nothing. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. The artist. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. for all three of these poets. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. This archetypal realm. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. an artist. first. or Fullness. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. Thus the artist. in this worldview. and his fall from paradise. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. theosophy. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. alchemy. by definition a ‘seer. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. biology. Adam. cosmology. Rosicrucianism. In all of these traditions.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. is in fact prophetic. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. the absolute unity of subject and object.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Ungrund. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. but nothing. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. we find a divine art and a divine science. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. For the purpose of such literature is. a mythologist. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. and a chemist. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. The aim of the esoteric
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. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. 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. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. magical. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. which is to say. even from a single letter. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. whether a Kabbalist. and Masonic illustrations. Hence. pansophic. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. . contains some secret of wisdom. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. author of The Magus. the language of creation itself. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. an alchemist. and notarikon.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. In this perspective. theosophic. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. Rosicrucian. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. . Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. temurah.’”102 Likewise. or a pansoph. a theosopher. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse.138
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
practitioner. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. almost always denoting divinity. for instance. where it arguably sparked the entire
. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language.
M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
symbolist movement and. . magic. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. Social Realism. following the various currents through Kabbalism. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. Futurism. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. and especially of written language and of the book. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians.104 Obviously. consequently. certainly it may be the Christian
. influenced much of modern Russian literature. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. 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. 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.” or the “Book of Revelation. 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. generally speaking . it may be the “Book of Nature. .” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. and Masonry. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. when surveying the various esoteric currents. theosophy. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism.’ and this is not necessarily so.” or the “Book of Life”. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity.
where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. gurus. Indeed. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. and so on back into antiquity. In Hinduism or Buddhism. interrupted. where the tradition
. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. However. or nonexistent. or masters. and what is more. and indeed even farther back. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. 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. Given our overview. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. but rather relied upon the written word. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. for instance. which indeed still finds them audiences today. or in Buddhism. Even in the case of alchemy. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. even in this case it is not a matter of an initiatory master-disciple tradition in quite the same way as we see in Sufism. But 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. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. and Geber. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. Hermes.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. much less in Christianity specifically. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. Islam. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken.
the divine is seen to inhere in language generally.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
focuses a great deal not only on mystical exegesis. particularly the works of Böhme. V Milosz. Let us take another example. Indeed. have been adorned with copious illustrations. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. One thinks here. Such a view of the written word is. of Abraham Abulafia. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. when we look at the writing of Milosz. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. may think of his poetry. whatever one . but who rather offered the world only written works. Somehow.’ a means of conveying ‘information. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. for in all cases. are not simply decorations. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. and in particular at its strange. initiatory. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. of course. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. These illustrations. 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. Christian theosophic literature. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. hieratic. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. dreamlike language and imagery. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. Milosz. Such evocation is. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. in addressing this far-off “son. By contrast. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. naturally. who. often strikingly beautiful. to some future initiate in a far century. That is to say. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. In modern parlance.’ or ‘data’. I believe. but
pansophic. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. I use the term ahistorical continuity. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. reaping. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. marked also “Sophia. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. Rather. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. in other words. the dark-world of hell. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. so there is no need here to repeat myself. it is more immediate and visceral. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. and over time those seeds can take root. Obviously.106 To explain this phenomenon. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. Such an illustration. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. In this way. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. for instance. does have an initiatic function—that is. In my view. represented by a cross. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. For instance.142
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
reveal in condensed visual form essential aspects of the theosophic tradition. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. through the turbulence of earthly life. Taken together. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. tending. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. This metaphor—of sowing. grow. and flower in the reader too.” or Wisdom. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. by gazing at such an image. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. theosophic. the lightworld of paradise. that is. What is more. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. which refers to
instead. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that
. you truly will know its worth. Such a reader joins with the author. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. one might even say impossible. . it can reëmerge in another. If. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. if you wish to use this little book aright. and who have a desire to begin. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. 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. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. or a biology textbook. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. Here. the daily news.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
the continuation of a specific esoteric paradigm precisely without any direct historical lineage. and are in earnest. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. leave untouched the precious Names of God . Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping.’ 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. After all. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. . But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. this function must be a change in consciousness. Perhaps. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. Thus. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. Naturally. as I am suggesting. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. for example.
Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. one automatically is caught in delusion.144
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
gave rise to them. or has knowledge-of. or they will be the “judgement of God in you.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing.” “Be rightly warned. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. 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.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. and for when one rises. judgemental consciousness. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. in his “Warning to the Reader. the source from which they emerge.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. it walks in its own delusion. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. but. and experience the divine directly. and become not its own possession.” or objectified realm. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. a prayer for noon. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division.”107 Or again. a prayer for one’s daily work. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning.
. and a prayer before sleep. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. he tells us. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. this objectifying delusion. and so on for the entire week. to become a channel for the divine current. not by merely mouthing the words. a prayer for the evening. and second. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. Then that thing. but the “instrument of God. which it sees as divine.” If on the one hand. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. a prayer for washing and dressing.
divine in its origin. conversely. of course. or divided from the divine. Here we are. the light and the dark. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. For language is in its innermost nature divine. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. In other words. or perceiver and what is perceived. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. as we have seen. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. the self in one sense continues to exist. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. in that there remains an observer. as are nature and humanity. In this sublime unity there is no congealing into an objectified self-other division—through paradox and enigma is expressed the sheer transcendence out of which emerges the dazzling archetypal realm. the yes and the no. where. just as. we have the point of origin. in Western esotericism generally. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. although there are divisions between archetypes. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. in the archetypal realm there is
. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. then language must reflect this division. there is no sense of separation between self and other. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. or subject and object. Above. There emerges a spacious or open quality. or the divine eye that sees itself. between the divine and the natural. but of the cosmos itself. love and wrath. in other words. Indeed. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. There is simply awareness. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. at the far limit of what we can express in language. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
not even in relation to the divine. the origin not only of language. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos.
For Western esotericism. suppression. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. The massive machine of the modern technological. nature. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. the divine is perforce unmentionable. but never owned. which is rife with the language of objectification. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. transformative. consumerist state was built from a materialist. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. or separation into self and other. in modern literary theory or theories of language. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. secular. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. secular. But by the late twentieth century. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. or manifest more indirectly in literature. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.146
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
still no possession or ownership. for after all. Language. and the participatory. 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. During this
. in these esoteric traditions. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. By contrast. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. and so forth. and the divine. and objectified worldview. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. Undoubtedly. 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. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language.
nature. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
time. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. to name only a few. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. If so. psychology. religion. magic or theosophy. troubadours and chivalry. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. the Lullian art. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. profound connections between humanity. in particular. 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. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are
. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. in theosophic works. which is to say. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. after all that we have surveyed. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. but also for society itself. As we have seen throughout this study. But to begin to explore this new. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. including elements of the sciences. Buddhism. too. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. inner territory. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. and the divine. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. A R T. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. at least for some. of awakening latent. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. scientific or otherwise.
L I T E R AT U R E . Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. To this we now turn. and the arts. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness.
but of reality. ascends to “that high state where. E. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. Indeed. 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. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. images. rejoicings. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. A. and the divine. A. E. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. It may be of use. he tells us. E. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. To use Plato’s metaphor. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. and indeed. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. to turn to a poet. E. But A. 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 . The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union.”111 Unconscious of creation. The poet’s psyche. joys. In this esoteric view of literature. .
. A. (George William Russell. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. not the life of shadows. a friend of Yeats. he simply began to murmur line after line. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. Naturally.148
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
vehicles of spiritual praxis. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. In his book Song and Its Fountains. beyond history. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. at this juncture. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. In this view. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. 1867–1935). of charged and living images once associated with the gods. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. to write presupposes already having seen. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. as the seers tell us. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. found throughout Western history. as we have seen. . nature.
A.”113 This movement of consciousness A. E. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. E. later discussed with W.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. analyzes the movement of consciousness. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. looks upon the poet as a prophet.”114 A far exile from that glory. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. it draws nigh to its own divine root. from a descent after an ascent. E.”116 Still. A. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights.” Although he struggled to remain in this state.” he wrote. A. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. Yeats. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. E.” Thus. There was neither sight nor sound. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. the poet. E. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. though too often they have not kept faith
. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. even if unaware of precisely how or why. A. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. Yet A. but all was a motion in deep being.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
dance. “I have. and song. E. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. but of the universal spirit he understood little. and after that images. B. was later translated into words. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision.”117 For this reason.” 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.”115 He understood something of the psyche. gone inward into itself. recognized his limits. the creation of poetry in A.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. perhaps surprisingly. “and then what was originally a motion in deep being broke into a dazzle of images which symbolized in some deep way a motion of life in that profundity. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. E.
. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. without knowing it. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. or division into self and other. In Christian theosophy. But at times they still receive the oracles. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. characters they had never met in life. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. the further we come out of the animal Nature.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. in that solitude we may meet multitude. E. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. when we seem most alone. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions.
. E. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. E. A. Thomas Bromley.”121 These insights of A. In essence. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. may. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. the view of literary creation that A. they come “trailing clouds of glory. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). for instance. as did the sybils of old. . 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. Throughout our investigations.” The psyche.” And there is more. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. E.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. and they wove into drama or fiction. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. when it becomes truly self-conscious.150
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
with the invisible . we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. And A. but which were real and which revealed more of themselves in that profundity of being than if they had met and spoken day by day.
and so requires our sympathetic participation. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. Of course. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. the author also is not directly present. E. by A. symbols. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. In this realm. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. say. there also is participation in what is observed. E. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. For who. events. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. and taken on a kind of life of its own. absorbed completely in a book. in the latter case. or drama. and we must. the book or work has been separated from its writer. although there is still an observer and what is observed. at least temporarily. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or
. as if by happenstance. the poet is more like a receiver. or of Captain Ahab. as if we knew them as neighbors. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. and experiences. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. like theater. One experiences great bliss. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. E. Likewise. We are carried along on the words of the author. more powerful. and between the models that they represent.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. In the first case. on the other a visionary poet. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
the more universal we are. Reading. In Bromley’s case. One becomes what one sees. and to one another in the Internal. But nonetheless. in between both author and reader. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. passive. which later emerge in poetry. where. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples.’s case. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. which no earthly Distance can hinder. irrespective of time or distance—and A. fiction. and nearer both to Heaven. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. a novel. for instance. in A. and the world is shot through with light.
precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. The difference. Ordinary. our authors tell us. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. of course. drama. but eventually puts the book down. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. playing for keeps. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. existing in a supraphysical dimension. Of course. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. presumably. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. essays. 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. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. 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. or to have it stricken.152
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
insights it expresses can exist. For when a reader engages in a literary work. and in Kabbalistic practice. magic is real. whereas the esotericist is. and books. we might reverse the terms. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. We see this in the Book of Revelation. the visions of the theosophers are real. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. in alchemical work. By contrast. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. and one has entered a new world.
. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. Perhaps. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. one turns away from the painting. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. fiction. writing. for example. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. 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. habitual self is gone. symbolizes eternal conditions. And indeed. and one enters into the new birth. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. We see this also in the insistence of Böhme that one must read his work with an attitude of humility and reverence for the divine or suffer lasting consequences by stirring up wrathfulness in one’s consciousness. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility.
the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. Meister Eckhart. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. Yet at the same time. or Kabbalists—by self-election. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. the literary work. the Kabbalist. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. gnostics. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. Johannes Tauler. their works like second nature. but there is much more to be done. Jacob Böhme. Ramon Lull. but what came into existence through him. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. the alchemist. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. in the process of creating a fictional world. Nicholas
. Jane Leade. the Kabbalist. so too is the author. is to attain paradisal immortality.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Yet it may be that the two versions of the game remain essentially similar. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. the gnostic. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. R. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. fiction. Thomas Bromley. and may even connect profoundly with each other. If a primary aim of the alchemist. Abraham Abulafia. Secret Societies. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. John Pordage. R. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. But fundamental questions remain. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. lives on.
Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism.154
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. 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. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. precedes all being. To what degree are these themes universal for human existence? Here we may step for the first time outside the sphere of Western esoteric and literary traditions. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. to be guided by the author. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. the author is reaching out. “add it to his own arsenal of power. to in Emerson’s words. for as I have discussed elsewhere. moreover. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism.” It may well be. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. in the
. In being. There are two philosophers whose work is of special value for us in considering the place of the Western esoteric traditions in this larger context: Nicholas Berdyaev (1874–1948) and Nishitani Keiji (1900–1990). And perhaps all forms of Western literature. and consciousness.124 The Ungrund. therefore. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. Berdyaev tells us. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. esoteric or not. In what could be considered the summation of his thought—the book The Beginning and the End—Berdyaev discusses the immense significance of Jacob Böhme’s concept of the Ungrund for religion and philosophy. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. literature. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. 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. taken together. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. but in every case. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here.
a different sort of knowledge. and therefore of division. and its expression in human creativity. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. and especially on the
.” and “is the beginning of a different world. particularly the arts of literature. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. Nishitani Keiji. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. 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. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. As Berdyaev points out. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. “Creative activity. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence.” he writes. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. or to put it another way. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. issues from existential eternity. of creativity. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. the artist. “it is an end of this world.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. fictional.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. the artist. It is knowledge. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history.
the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. “an equality in love.156
R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E
Buddhist understanding of shunyata. Out of this transcendence alone. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. is beyond definition. .”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. that is. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. or “true emptiness. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. for faced with nihility. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. one retreats into self even further. Nishitani. in other words. As we have seen throughout this study. This is the field of shunyata. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. or perhaps better still. As rational or personal beings. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. The force of destiny is at work here. egoistic mode of being. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. emerges authentic freedom. of course. This intensifies our narcissism. the choices of the will. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself .”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. and indeed. or the emptiness of all things. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. or rather in unison. In Nishitani’s work. Nishitani affirms.” an “absolute openness. . . and us from them.”128 True emptiness. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. What
. While this is our own act.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. Yet there is another field that is not nihility.” Authentic freedom is. self-identically. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. . .”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . self-centered consciousness. what is the same thing. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. it is not something we are free to do as we please . and has the effect not of separating.
from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided.
. for all their diversity. Paradoxically. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. including paintings.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. language is indeed divine. write and are written. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. with nature. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. as the sense of self and other diminishes. or even linguistic construction. anything that can be read or written. But in any case. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. have at their center this mystery of the word. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. The Western esoteric traditions.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
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. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. It can lead us. a calling toward what we are meant to be. seen as a whole. We read and are read. so Western esotericism suggests. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. joined together with one another. political.
and readers would do well to become familiar with it. Faivre. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. See Steven Katz. See Hanegraaff. ibid. ed.esoteric. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www.msu. including Wouter Hanegraaff. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism.edu ] for articles. 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.aseweb. For an overview of Western esotericism. 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.org. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. See www. 1994). the official Web site of the ASE.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. See Arthur Versluis. 2. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.Notes
1. much of it in French. 4.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. 5. in this field..
.msu.esoteric. 1992). I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. a Dutch scholar. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. 3.edu. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. see Antoine Faivre. mostly by North American scholars. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. See also the journal Esoterica [www.
180. pp. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. (London: Sheldon. whether they know it or not. 309. 10–15. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. See Versluis.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. pp. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. p. 14–21. See. See Arthur Versluis. pp. 2000). 4. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. 219–233. 1992). 11. Mircea Eliade. 1986). 248. p. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. 1973). See ibid. 2000). p. 223. 83 ff. 18 ff. 3. 1978). 97. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism.
. pp. See Versluis. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 7. John Pordage. Gnosis and Literature (St. Paul: Grail. pp. See Charbonneau. p.. see also Scholem. 111. 2000). 1991). 3. Myths. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. Paul: Paragon House. 151. 140. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. p. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France.160
NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE
6. Victor Sogen Hori. 10. Dreams. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. ed. 5. 2. See Faivre. See Gershom Scholem. 37 ff.
1. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. pp. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. pp. 12. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. pp. trs. 1965). 14. 5. Ibid. in Arthur Versluis. 9. 307. E. p. and Mysteries (New York: Harper.. 13. p. Nag Hammadi Library. Nag Hammadi Library. Paul. See Frederick Goldin. 1974). Paul: Grail. 1996). 51–89. 8.
1. Jean La Fontaine. 4. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St... Sophia. eds.. cit. 2. Translation is mine. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. 1975). All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. op. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. 1999). Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. Ramon Lull. 6. p.. pp. 76–106. p. Peers. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. 145. 1863). Paragon House.
25. 57. in The Zohar. 61. 1984).. Ibid. See.. Ibid. 37. trs. Ibid. p. 49–50. p. 35. 32. 16. I. 18. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins..314. II. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. 51.. p. 1992). 52. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 14. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. p. I. Twersky.71. (Hildesheim: Olms. Ibid. 197. p. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.. p. 8. ed.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO
6. 1965). See Scholem. 1779). ed. p. 33. 11. Ibid. 1987). Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. see also Scholem. 197. op.. and Françoise Secret. 1983). Ibid. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations.325. 270. 19.B. Zohar IV . Dan.76. IV . II. op. 101–102. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. 21. Bonner. Simon. Ibid. 1961). Ibid. Opera omnia.77. op.. p. p. 29. Cassirer.80 ff. Ibid. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. Cassirer. 1988). 246. ed. 23. for instance. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. 1979). 280. See A.. ed. see also Moshe Idel. 20. 24.. II.. Origins. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. Ibid. cit. Origins. I.. 34.
. p. Vasoli. 57. 31. p. See Arthur Edward Waite. Origins. 394... 1953) I.. 298 ff. et al. Ibid. Ibid. p. ed. 278. 30. 1964). 13. I. cit. 1969). See Verman.. cit. A. 66. eds. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. 7. p. p. pp. See Pico della Mirandola.312.205b.. 29.C. I.320–323.. 10. 59. p. pp. 9. II.331. Doctor Illuminatus. (London: Soncino. See Verman. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. See J. 1986). M. Ibid. Ibid. C. I. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1985).. 28. See Mark Verman. 250. 17. Joseph Blau.. See Moshe Idel.75. Gershom Scholem. 27. as well as Antoine Faivre and F.351. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. Scholem.. I.. 26. 22.205b–206a. 38. 12. trs. Tristan. p.. 15. p. Ibid. 36.
Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. see Donald Dickson. a theologian. 54. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. See also Marsha Schuchard. Fama.. Yates. 43. . p. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . 53. . 45. ed. 253. 251.. op. Confessio.. for background.M. 47. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. Hall. p. 50.O. See Versluis. 67.77. 246. 60.P. 241. Ibid. 255. ed. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. Ibid.A. Ibid. Resicrucian Enlightenment. 42.. Ibid. including two physicists.. H. diss. and even chart them astrologically. ..D. 77. Ibid..162
NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO
39. p. cit. 1988). D. 63. See. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. forthcoming. 55. Ibid. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. 58. and also written an extensive commentary on it. der gantzen weiten welt .. a cosmologist. p. See Versluis. Ibid. 221. and others. 371. 252.. p. 41. 59. Confessio. See Versluis. p.. p. II. . 62. Ibid. 257. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. Ibid. for the reader’s convenience. p. The following page references are to Yates. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. p.681.. Secret Societies. p. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation.102–104. 37. William Huffman. 1999). 238.. Ibid. 1998). p. 1975). 1972). for text.. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. Ibid.A. Josten. 260. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652.M. 49. 52. Ibid. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. 61. Ashmole. p.. 1971).O. 56. table of contents. (Cassel: Wessel. I. in a group called the Round Table. See. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. p. Confessio. 49. Ashmole. 40. p. 57. Freemasonry. The Alchemy of Art. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. 220.. Theatre of the World. Ibid. a musician. Fama. Frances Yates. Fama. p. Fama. p. 129. 22. 1997). I have translated this work of Pordage. M. 242. 48.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest.
. University of Texas at Austin. See Frances Yates. p. p. See Josten. From von Welling. 1966). and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. 1784).. Confessio. 46. 1615). p. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. (Cassel: Wessel. 44. 51. ms. C.. I.
68. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. 67. Ibid.” 99–134. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. See also Bernard Fay. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. Warlick. Ibid. p. 71. p. See James Anderson. 11. Faivre. 8. Ibid. 69. On Emerson and Hermeticism. 1967). 65. 256. D. 253. 1997). pp. (London [Philadelphia]: B. See George David Henderson. 2002). Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. pp. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. Brown. 162–168. 1985). especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. 66. 3. 417. (New York: Crossroad. 6. Religion. A.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
64. . 1952).. pp. See M. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. . 110. 414. Paul: Grail. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. 1997). see Versluis. 247–249.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. cit. p. 10. 1992). 191. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. pp. see also Max Ernst. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. 268. p. 39. 172–173. p. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. pp. Ibid. 1935). 170–171. p. and Albert Cherél. 1734). Ibid. See also Schuchard. changes. Mazet. p.. citing B. Ibid. . p. Freemasonry. 257–272. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. regulations . pp. 70. Milosz. H. 66–67. 7. M. ed. Hugh Trevor-Roper. p. 5. and Margaret Bailey. Charge I. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 2001). 654. 1992)... the Reformation. See Dickson. 1926). E. See Edmond Mazet. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism.. S. Revolution and Freemasonry. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. Ibid. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St.
.. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). p. 240. op. Sloane. O. Ibid.. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. Franklin.
1. 4. V de L. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. 9. 170–171. pp. ed.. 1948). 2. M. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. 409.
1994).. p... 13. p. The question. D. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 178–179.. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p.
.115. 32. see Versluis. pp... p. Ibid.. Lib. pp. D. 35. 455. 20. 25. 38. 30. pp. 2001). is into what did she translate this inner meaning. 300. pp. Milosz. cit.. 36. op. 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. 18. . The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 22. Milosz. p. Ibid. p. pp. See W. pp. 464. 206–207. p. cit.. 277.. 299. pp. Scott. Ibid.. 26. Susan Friedman.. 29. 1985). 303. pp. Ibid. Ibid. 174–175. . Ibid. 296. 1982). Friedman writes that “From her [H. Ibid. trs. 40.. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . 157–206.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. See Versluis. 15.. 33. Ibid. op. I. See Versluis. 465. Ibid. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. Ibid. 210–211. D.. 469. op. 41.. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. 17. p. 39. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. 19. Milosz. ed. 31. I. 34. 21. pp. 27. p. 24. pp. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. For the poet of the modernist era. H. pp. 248. Milosz. 14. 28. cit. pp.’s] perspective. Ibid. p. Ibid. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. 226–227. pp.164
NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
12. pp. Ibid. for a translation of Hymns to the Night.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety.. Ibid. 1981). Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 8–9.. 299–300. Ibid. 1989). Ibid..1 ff. 23.. 37. p. Ibid. 297–298. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. 1996). 224–225. see Steven Bullock.. Ibid. 16. of course. 158). 48–52. 180–181. Ibid. 182–183. 204–205. For a more extensive study. Ibid.. introduction by Albert Gelpi.
20. H. pp. H. 1997). Warlick. see also. 66.. 66. pp.. 59. 52. Ibid.. p. The Gift. 35.. 47. Ibid. Kathleen Raine. Ibid.. 50. Futurism. 48. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. 21. 271–272..” 1. Irina Gutkin. p. 169. of course. 70. Rosenthal.. 259. rpt. 69. Ibid. 222. Ibid. Ibid..” 17. for documentation.. pp.. 1988). Ibid. Ibid. p. “Notes. 154–155. p. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Ibid. 61. p.. 44. Rimius.. D.. 29. Social Realism” in B. H. 156–159. 2001). 225–246.. See H. 51. See Jane Augustine. 24. Ibid. 19. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. D. 58. hereafter cited as TG. Ibid. 20. Georg Heinrich Loskiel.. 223. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. Ibid. The Gift. ed. 13.. 39. 57. 1967). 45.. See M. 67. “Walls. Kraus. D. and I certainly recommend her article. 72.. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. 71. 50–51. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. 1989). Ibid.. 1998). 55. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Ibid. H. 33. 74. 64.. D. 49. 165. D. p. 53. D. 1. 18. 157. 17–19. pp. 284–285.” pp. 62. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel
. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 54. “Tribute to the Angels..” 30–31.. Ibid. 67. These passages were transcribed by H... 102. p. “The Walls Do Not Fall. 32. Ibid... Ibid. 21. p. 68. Ibid. other authors we could consider here. 75. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). See H.. 50. 63. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press.. 46. D. p. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. p. 70. 168. 43. 60. Ibid. 73. There are. ed. as well as this entire collection of articles. 65. p. E.” on which see TG. p.. Ibid. 23. 56. See.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
97. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. ed. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. op. p. and Meditations. 83.. Faivre. Ibid. 82. B. 20–21. Ibid. 90. noted hereafter as Vision. I. S.d. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. 84.. 10. 127. 80. p. 87. 88. so I have decided not to include them here. 1994). p. 154. Poems. 40. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. 101.). p. 124–125. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. p. pp. Gareth Knight. p. 103. 43.. 100. p. The Works of William Blake. Ibid. Dion Fortune. The Magical World of the Inklings.. 320. (London: Quaritch. Fortune. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. 1893). Lewis. 1814). p. cit. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. 89. Ibid.25. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. p. Vision. 1990).. 78.166
NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). Ibid.. Ibid. 99.. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. 85. including Fortune’s. 82–83.. 70–71. 96. See Antoine Faivre. Faivre. 104–104. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. S. 77. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel.. 1994) p. Ibid. Lewis. 1988) p. Ibid.. 1993). 92. 40. 322. C. 102. hereafter noted as Meditations. p. Collins.. 94. Ibid. See on this point. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. Dion Fortune. Yeats. Ibid. p. Ibid.. 93. Letters from England (London: Longman. 76. pp. 115.. p. p. pp. Ellis and W. p. Meditations. Vision. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed... 87. See for instance. p. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. E. 323.).. op. 95.. cit.. Gareth Knight. 197. 21. retained his magical regalia in his office. 382. 98. 81. C. 91. The Secrets of Dr. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). op. 3 vols. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. p. 88. 102. p. Ibid. cit. Ibid. 101. p. 95. 1997). 79. pp. 112. See Collins. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. Collins. Dion Fortune. 91. pp. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. 239. Southey.
. p. 1994). 86. n. 291.
1994). Ibid. Ibid.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
104.. 129. 128. 122. 105. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.. p.1 ff.. 40. 1991). 62. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 109. p. 39.1. Ibid. 106. p. Ibid. See also The Destiny of Man. Ibid. p. 78.. See Charles C. Socialist Realism. Ibid. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. 106. Nishitani Keiji. 111. 285. p. Nicholas Berdyaev. pp. 1980). Ibid. Ibid. “Vorrede. 1978). 114. p. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 115.31.” in B.. Irina Gutkin. 95.. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. p. pp. 113. 103.D. 118. 120. 1958). 116.31. p. p. Ibid. p. 119. trs.. 107. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 71 ff.. 127. Ibid. 123.29–30. Ibid. IV . Ibid. p. 194 ff. A.” 108. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 105. 112. I... The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. Ibid. 25 ff. p. ed. 125. Futurism. for example. 275 ff. E. 74.” and I.. Christosophia. “Warnung an den Leser. 93. I added the colors.. 124. Ibid. 199. Christosophia IV . Peter Erb. Rosenthal. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press.. p... 63.. Toronto: 1948). Freedom and the Spirit. 225.. 40 and pp. Ibid. p. Diss. pp.. Knapp. See Versluis. pp. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. See. 110. 170. 126. 130. 94.
. 108 ff. II. p.. 1997) p. forthcoming. 121.. pp. Ibid. 62–63. 1957). See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. 117. Versluis.
17–19 Clement of Alexandria. William. 63. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 81 Bruno. 77 Bromley. 30. 97. Giordano. 102. 28–29. John. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 1. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. Emily. 78. Henry. Arthur. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 76 Buddhism. Cecil. 28. 154 Book of Life. 78. 82 Bacon. 68–71. 68. Franz von. 45 Chaucer. 22 Cordovero. 90. Geoffrey. Heinrich Cornelius. 46 Christ. 80. 4. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. René. 5. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 82–83
. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 148–150 Alchemy. 64. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 5. Roger. Thomas. 94. 10. Tibetan. 142. 154 Dogen. 28. 53. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 99 Dickinson.E. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 97 Cremer. 35–43. 141 Agrippa. 75. 141–142. John. 129. 81–82 Descartes.. William. 89. 93. 75 Chivalry. 79 Backhouse. 42. 137 Boethius. 53 A. 63 Anderson. 143–144. 81–82 Dee. 61–62. 93. 59. 5. 55–67. Tycho. 24. Nicholas. 96 Berdyaev. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 31 Basilius Valentinus.INDEX
Abulafia. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 56 Baader. 2 Aurea Catena. 27–28. 72 Consciousness. ix. 80 Böhme. 40–41. 14. Moses. 56 Art. 1 Collins. 66 Corbin. Jacob. Sir Thomas. 147 Buddhism. 57. 96 Dee. 20. 129. initiatory nature of. 11 Dury. 17 Blake. 53. 139. 40 Bible. 150 Browne. 152
Brahe. 138 Basilides. 129–135 Comenius. 56 Bahir. 56 Amor Proximi. 25 Apuleius. Elias. 28. Francis. 52. John. Abbot. 148 Barrett. 2. 140. Abraham. James. 57 Beatrice. 81. 47. 94. 24. 80–82 Astrology. 31. 59 Dante. 25 Ashmole. 18. 95. 51.
63. 95 Hartlib. 84 Lewis. 50. Carlos. Brian. 53. 112 Imagination. John Scotus. Susan. 78 Gnosis. Herman. 153 Homer. 76. 26–31. 84.D. 127 Loskiel. 103. Samuel. 111 Geheime Figuren. Dion. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 127 Frankenberg. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 109 Hermeticism. Abraham von. 8. 10–12. 65. Ralph Waldo. 56. Antoine. 104 Gichtel. 19. 100 Marcus. 55 Koran. 54. 153–154 Eriugena. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. Mircea. 42. Victor Sogen.S. Jane. 35. Robert. 5 Hori. Jewish. 22–24 Initiation. C. 140 Hippolytus. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 19..170
Eckhart. 72–73 Faust. 46. 2. 122 Koan. 82 Knight. 100.S. Steven. 105. 27–28 Gnosticism. 2. 25 Hinduism. 120. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 57–59. 25 John. 129 Kelley. 139 H. Nicholas. 83. 101 Freemasonry. Joseph de. 77 Flamel. T. 43–45. 75. 69 Franklin. 36–39 Gutkin. 11 Hutton.. 76 Maistre. 85 Merkabah mysticism. Margaret. 56 Jerusalem. Rulman. 88-89. 2. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. Gareth. 2. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. Johannes. Book of. 1 Keeble. Wolfram von. 138 Katz. 80–81 Fortune. 30. Francis. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. Johann Georg. 22. Jewish. 112 Lull. 7–8. 28. 106 Eschenbach. Martin. 21. John. 7–8 Esotericism. 140 La Fontaine. 123. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. Edmond. Jean. 137 Goethe. 52–54 Kabbalah. Max. 68. 102 Ernst. 51 Islam. 120–122. Johann Wolfgang. Andreas. 100 Hirst. 112 Friedman. 21–22
Hermetica. 104. 40
. 102 Leade. ix. 8–9 Larronde. 79–86. 109. 103–119 Hardenberg. Irina. 9. 82–83 Heidegger. 103 Fuller. 99 Grail cycle. 151 Merswin. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 89–103 Hermetism. 123–126. 90. 56 Fludd. 21 Heydon. 19 Faivre. Ramon. Georg Heinrich. 19–21. Meister. 126. 46–52. Christian. Michael.. 89. 50. 102 Lee. 29 Mazet. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 18–21. 104. 29 Hiram. 105 Eliade. 104. 97. 1. ix. 101–102 Frey. 56 Maier. Albert. 44. 4. 111 Emerson. 12–15. 77 Gelpi. 9 Eliot. Benjamin. 107. Edward. 89. Joseph Edward. Désirée. 5. 89. 31 Melville.
Book of. 21 Poiret. 120. Christian. 26–27 Moravians. Louis-Claude de. 115. 109. 115. 40 Raine. 36. Vladimir. 56 Origen. 103 Pyrlaeus. 40 Milosz.R. 99. 52 Pansophy. 150. 9. 76 Sufism. 39–40 Solovyov. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 21. 4 Reuchlin. 136 Science and objectification. Milton. 79. 68. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 37–38 Pascal. 87–88. 5. 14. 105. 2 Postel. 140 Tao te ching. 56. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 90 Milosz. 64. Jean. 32 Plato. 52 Piers Ploughman. 119
Raleigh. 57. 47–48. Johannes. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 25. Gospel of. 140 Tauler. 152 Richter. 64 Roberts. 23–26. 26 Tolkien. 90 Talmud. 94. 90 Porete. 76 Parzival. 59. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 29 Pre-Socratics. 47. 79. 69. Thomas. 67–69. Martinez de. 18. 4 Shakespeare. sacred. 53 Theosophy. J. 92. Marguerite. 138 Stellatus. 103. 116 Nature [concept of]. 46. Gillaume. 99 Philip. 56 Swedenborg. 51. 92. 8 Rosicrucianism. 139 Saint Martin. 148 Seidel. 74. 19. 154–156 Norton. 71–76 Rousseau. 84 Reading. René.. 99 Scholem. 53 Theseus. 123 Poimandres. Johannes. 108 Rimius. 2. 89–103. Andrew Michael. ix. Pierre. 18. 110 Southey. Johann Christoph. 63 Rici. 53. 2. Jean.. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Rainer Marie. 53 Rilke. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 5 Minotaur. 99 Prospero. 50 Schuchard. 137. Bernadette. Kathleen. 141 . 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. Gustav. John. 85. 52–53 Revelation. Marsha Keith. William.R. 5. 113. 112 Ripley. Blaise. 112–113 Morienus. 70. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 114–115 Thenaud. 56 Moses de Leon. 99 Pasqually. 90. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 108. 19. Gershom. 63. 115 Pythagoras. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 17. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 14–15. 46. 66 New Age. 32. Samuel. Czeslaw. 43 Synesius.V ix. Emanuel. 99. 60. George. 48 Mysticism. 92. Sir Walter. 148 Radical ecology. 13.INDEX
. Robert. 73. 140 Templars. 58 Numbers. 84 Pordage. 69. Paulus. 148 Platonic archetypes. Joseph. 75–78 Paracelsus. 118 Ramsay. O. 11 Russian literature. 103. 116 Self. 105. 87–88. 89. Henry. John.
Hugh. 10. 140 Valentinus. Frances. 56
. Jean-Baptiste. George. ix..B. 82 Troubadours. 75 Yeats. 89. 110. 111 Warlick. 156 Zinzendorf. 64. 103. 111. 106 Washington. 67–69 Upanishads. 116 Yates. 122–123 Williamson. 63. 31 Viterbo. W. 2. Arthur. 10. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. Egidio Cardinal. 103. M. 35–43 Ungrund. 137. 112–113 Zohar. ix. 120. 84 Williams. 48. 103. 10. 104.172
Trevor-Roper. 79 Willermoz.. Charles. 148 Zen Buddhism. David. 101
Weishaupt. Adam. 55. Nicholas. Georg von.E. 148 Zosimos. 86 Welling. 88. 9. 53 Versluis.
Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. Imagination.msu.Suggestions for Further Study
A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse.aseweb. (Leuven: Peeters. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. 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. 1994). as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. 2001). along with its companion book. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. (Graz: Akademische. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been
. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. eds. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. 1998).org. 1975). Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. 1998). Earlier. Gnoses.. 1998). Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 2 vols. Theosophy. 1992). 2000). 1992). and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. 1956).esoteric.
1996). Gnosis and Literature (St. edited by Brian Keeble. and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. Paul: Grail. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 2002). Paul: Grail. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended.
. Paul: Paragon House. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 2001). and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St.174
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY
combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. 1999). 1994). 2000). 1996).