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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s . Art. Literature.
1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. paper) 1. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. Title. Occultism—History. Occultism in literature. address State University of New York Press. photocopying. BF1411. cm. II.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. electrostatic. Albany. literature. p. Authur. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. 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. 2. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. I. Series. Anne M. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. mechanical. 90 State Street. art. magnetic tape. For information. Suite 700. Laurie Searl Marketing.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. NY 12207 Production. 3. recording.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. Occultism in art.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 .Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. Pansophic. Rosicrucian.
Art.viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .
figures. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. At the very least. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. Lewis. C. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. 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. Milosz.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. art. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. In writing this book. At the suggestion of an early reader. but as the book took shape. H. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. literature. D. S. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. and consciousness itself. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. O. Hence. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. but the work’s focus remains Western. ix . traditions. and Cecil Collins.. V. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. but in keeping with my original impetus.
copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 1997). in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared.). including the adapted cover illustration. each of whom helped to make it a better work. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. from Trilogy.D. and to Studies in Spirituality. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. de L.. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. from Trilogy. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. 2001). My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. (Ipswich: Golgonooza.D. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production.D. xi .). Poems. 1994) and Meditations. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. 1985).Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. V. Milosz.
figures. mutually 1 . are now appearing.1 Here. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. but also. or conveying spiritual experiences.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. artistic. and metaphysical or transcendent. literary. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. and perhaps even more critically. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. however. provoking.I n t ro d u c t i o n : I n i t i a t o r y Tr a n s m i s s i o n and the Imagination We find ourselves today at the edge of new vistas in scholarship. and otherwise. religious. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. Yet for this to take place. These are not. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. even apophatic mysticism. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. the study of mysticism.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. In this book. and one that has ramifications in many directions. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis.
however disparate. magic. Rather. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. theosophy. Christian gnosis. and about how we come to know. Here. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. including alchemy. above all this is a book about knowing. Rosicrucianism. of course. Like the koan. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. do have certain characteristics in common. this must be our primary focus. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. provoke.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. Freemasonry. Christian theosophy. philosophical. astrology. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. that is what this book is about. left out of literary. 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. or convey spiritual awakening. But the time for such biases is past. In particular. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. or gnosis. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. however. astrology. or Hermeticism. Undoubtedly. Not at all. mysticism. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. religious. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. Jewish Kabbalah. magic. In essence. . there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. examples of it include alchemy. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. and social histories. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. Yet these traditions.
5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. and cults existed side by side. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. therefore. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. when a panoply of religions. our time resembles the early Christian era. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. Thus. nature. of course. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. a vast field. the Western esoteric traditions. Western esotericism is. despite their often almost bewildering variety. which is often seen either as outdated. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. about reading the stars. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. when we look at Western societies. we find on the social front. and there are many treasures to be found there. And underlying these is. proliferating wildly. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. In many respects. For as we will see. . in my view. what their predecessors are. By looking more closely at the origin. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. At the same time on the religious front. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. sects. and to understand their patterns and meaning. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. 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. and to alternative forms of spirituality. To navigate one’s way through these movements. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. and particularly in the radical ecology movement.
4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. imaginatively enter into different lives. why do we travel with . progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. What is more. reading here guides one toward gnosis. 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. or spiritual knowledge. And when we read a great poem. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. but can be transmuted.’ that is. If there are great writers. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. and heaven. also about union. we feel as someone else feels. so too there are great readers. The word gnosis. When we read a novel. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. and each requires the other. we enter into another’s world.’ itself a metaphor for our time. 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. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see.’ Unexamined here. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. In every experience of literature. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. and will require much elaboration. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. refers to spiritual knowledge. is much deeper than it might at first appear. however. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. minerals and stars. Likewise. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. but with consciousness itself. of course. The mystery of reading is. in other words. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. we have developed machines that ‘read. when we read the works of an Emerson. purgatory. and ultimately with the divine. Greek in origin. By contrast. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize.
The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . we understand. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. 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. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. like so many others. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. fiction. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. We make connections. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. What is more. 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. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. drama. and essays. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. and where we are going. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. and when we read them. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works.” 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. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. Rather. where we are from. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. not about accumulating more information. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness.
finally. and particularly literature. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. people most of all. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. grounded in spirituality. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . most notably Western esoteric traditions. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. quantitative. the way we see the world. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. indeed. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. it suffuses our language. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. and everything becomes a matter of techné. In this respect. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. and the divine. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. Those studying the humanities. nature. or manipulation. but also the even more primal act of knowing. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. in that to follow such a path means that one has to leave behind modern objectifying preconceptions of how one is separate from nature and the divine. But 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. including people. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. but for connection and union. living divorced from humanity.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. as if catalogic. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. 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. everything. one based not on division but on union. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. By contrast. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. from which we believe that we are separate.
however. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. and so to maintain clarity. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. 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. 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.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. In Western Europe. . and so forth. and consciousness. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. And in North America as well.6 Subsequently. and groups in Western European and North American history. And indeed. Indeed. works. The reader. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. But the fact remains that there are also figures. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. French scholar Antoine Faivre emphasized the word esotericism—as opposed to esoterism—and developed a set of largely cosmological characteristics that he saw as characterizing most Western esoteric individuals and groups from the Renaissance into the early twentieth century. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. literature. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. so too that choice still exists today. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. alone with an author. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. crystals. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening.
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say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.
I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual
admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an
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emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-
Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. . At one time. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. 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. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. then it is a breakthrough not out of. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough.”11 This is. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. 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. I believe. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in .10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. not beyond it. but this is by no means to say that therefore there is no such thing as nonconceptual or transcendent knowledge unmediated by language or image. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. . there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. in his Shobogenzo. but into conventional consciousness . kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience.” Victor Sogen Hori argues that it is mistaken to hold that koans are a means for ascending out of thought and language into a state of pure consciousness. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. however. From this viewpoint. through language and image. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language.
the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. Like the koan. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. Rather. T H E E S O T E R I C I M A G I N AT I O N The word imagination of course derives from image. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. for that matter.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. frustrating though this may be. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. 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. This is not to say that the West had or. 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. as means of initiation. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. 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. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. I believe. and thus also to the individual. I am arguing that in the West. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. By . literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. What makes Western esotericism different above all. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. as I will propose here. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. Rather. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. as in individual daydreams.
refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. it is for the few. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. the action by the act of reading or viewing.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. it is not for a general readership. Obviously. the images. Imagination. in other words. 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. 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. literary or otherwise. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. For example. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. For instance. This work is circumscribed. guide. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to .12 As a result.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience.
in other words. not one’s own. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. and nothing less. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. Sympathetic readers. But there is a third perspective.” The gnostic. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. graspable solution to a koan. which is what I am proposing here.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. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. Yet if we answer “yes. and 3. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. who enter into a work imaginatively. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. to understand them. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. 2. 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. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. 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. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. and this too presents problems. When Jacob Böhme wrote that his writings were not for those hostile to them (who would be better off not looking at them at all) he meant that the works are indeed esoteric. but here a new magical earth is brought . has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being.’ 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. Initiates. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation.
if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. What is more. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. but resides in a continuum between the two. in sum. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. to the divine power within that creates. then. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic 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. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. This. The realm of the imagination. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. 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. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. 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. . is by its very nature one of co-creation. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone.
still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. what we may call a 17 . is profoundly different. however. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. And to find these themes. The other kind of writing. we must begin in antiquity. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. death. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. This. From relatively early on.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. the Book of Revelation. needless to say. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. we are not so concerned with surveying the entirety of this period—a monumental task best left to others— but with the defining themes that will emerge again and again in later times. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. Here. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. 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. and. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. and resurrection.
so rare—in fact. the development of Buddhism. as throughout world religious traditions. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. be it scientific. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. should it be ahistorical. 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 represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. literal. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. . both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. In Christianity. Of course. on the other hand. for instance. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. or historical. the Word was not literal but spiritual. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. and on the other. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. that one can easily list them. By contrast. The gnostics. symbolic. an ahistorical. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. revelatory emphasis. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. multilayered approaches. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. legal. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. and mythic. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. Consider. we can see how anomalous it is. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. or technological. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. and indeed. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. of course.
For instance. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. Likewise. but such an approach is not for everyone. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. the seeds of all things. just . and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. These vibratory seeds human beings may contact or activate through spiritual practice and in this way be in touch with the powers that inform creation itself. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. Who was rejected as heretical.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. and who else was accepted as orthodox. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. asceticism. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. chiefly vowels. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. but of communication. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. and communion. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. here it is vertical. who are worthy of it. one is in touch with inconceivable power. and spiritual illumination.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. however much their literalist opponents think differently. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. In general. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. that is. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. true pronunciation. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here.
and so forth. 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. such images represent divine aspects. we can see how these images fit rather well into the tradition: they represent again a means of invoking and ‘fixing’ the underlying powers or principles of creation itself. then. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. and macrocosmically. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. 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. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. one finds that from the very beginning of our era the very same elements conduce also to a wide spectrum of gnoses and hence to angelic polytheism and to nontheistic gnosis in which the very concept of God is transcended. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. paradoxically conveyed often through . and so forth. inconceivable power would be set loose. thereby making this conflict inevitable. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. basilisks. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. are a means to creation’s redemption. through images. but if the letters were properly restored. and we may recall that Dionysius the Areopagite devoted some effort to discussing how the divine may best be symbolized by unexpected and even grotesque images that keep us from mistaking a beautiful image for the thing itself. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. as does the creation of images. as principles of creation itself. 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.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. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. 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.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. The letters. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. so the letters were altered. Letters and numbers. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition.
number. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. is self-evident. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence.” the being. but share elements in common with all three. presented in the form of dialogues. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. of the mysteries tradition. in the first centuries of this era. “for I am with you everywhere. out of which emerges a “holy Word. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. In at least some respects. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. There is no one author of the Hermetica. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries.” when he reaches rest and joy (I.” the “voice of the Light.25). Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. letter. 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. 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. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. tells him. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. in symbols and myths. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. Poimandres. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light.” (X.” but not like an ordinary sleep.” From the very beginning. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. which were also about death and resurrection. “I know what you wish. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic.22b) .ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations.
The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. It is. Christian esotericism. yet not strictly philosophical either. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. and Hermetism. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. or direct knowledge of the divine. they certainly intermingled. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. 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. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. 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. what we find is something quite different. and there is a witness to the revelation. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. the mystery traditions. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. traditions.” “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. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. and . the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. However. Like Hermes himself. mercurial quality to it. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. Indeed. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. For from what we have said. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. Platonism.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. always there is a fluid. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. then.
and does eat. And immediately I was in the spirit. and only then. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. At one point. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. a mesocosm. Although the vision has a beginning. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. and behold. or field of the imagination. and where the earthly past. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. present. when he eats the book. and one sat on the throne. he is told to eat. in the fourth chapter. However. but take place in their own time. Above all. turned. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. and he interacts with them. and future are visible. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. of course. Then. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. once introduced to this sequence. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . and behold. where John meets. I believe that literature. and the auditory part of the vision began. John. a door was opened in heaven. 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. when he weeps. apparently visionary time. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. off the Greek coast. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. a little book sweet as honey. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. .” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. beginning with the Revelation to John. mythology. came the following: “After this I looked. quite well known. an elder tells him to weep not. and in the tenth chapter. questions. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. a throne was set in heaven.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. There are. Rather. he sees the twenty-four elders. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. in other words. saw and heard these things. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches.
which he does. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. and we are given warnings at his account’s end that no one should add to or subtract from what is written in his book (22:18). and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. there are “other books. John is given a little book to eat. and one hundred forty-fours. a gnostic encounter with elders. but sweet as honey on his lips. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. of course. The Revelation. all remind us of the prior traditions. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. Every aspect of life is altered. we will recall. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. twelves. and Hermetism. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. Christian Gnosticism. in other words. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. But for our purposes. Taken together. the Book of Revelation of St. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. the very book that we are reading. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word.9). and by eating the book. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. found in Judaism. Additionally.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens.12).” during these the end times. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. In the tenth chapter.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. And then there is. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. becoming symbolically charged. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. of course. these elements lend themselves very much to an esoteric interpretation: the symbols and numbers represent a secret knowledge known by the few symbolically designated as the “woman in the wilderness. John is united with its knowledge. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. and are in a sense initiates. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. One. and finds it bitter in his belly.13). the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. angels.
This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. Of course. At the same time. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. at the Kabbalistic tradition. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. 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. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. where an encounter may take place. the Ascension of Isaiah. seen by a seer. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. words. profoundly symbolic numbers. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. 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 . in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. splendid earthly form: but again. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. all of which belong to the apocrypha. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. Yet because it became canonical. Rather. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. a hearer. and what is heard. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. and what is seen. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. at the mystical tradition. and of James and of Adam. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. it is an image. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. the Revelation does not stand alone. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. including the two books of Enoch.
Esoteric literature. how hieroeidetic a work is. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. objectifying it.’ of participation. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. we are drawn toward it. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. or from exoteric to esoteric. a constellation of letters and numbers. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. of being charged. to the transcendent. as wild as the book of Revelation. ranging from external to internal. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. 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. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. 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. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. without relevance to oneself. In other words. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. So it is with the story of Theseus. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. far more than may at first appear. to make it one’s own. it is certainly not the only one. And though we risk being burned. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. or put better. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. often in a simple story. The analogy of electricity. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. for although the Revelation is the most well known. more electric. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. and exists more for entertainment. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters.
ter, Ariadne, and a thread that led him out. The symbolism here is profound, and certainly reflects the ancient Mithraic mystery symbolism of the bull, the labyrinth of the world, and escape-rebirth. But perhaps we may adapt this symbolism to our own purposes, for when we consider the subject of gnosis, we too find ourselves in a labyrinth, and require some thread to guide us out. This thread is the topic of gnosis itself, for by exploring it, we will be far better prepared to understand the often bewildering variety of Western esoteric traditions. The word gnosis, because it is singular, implies that there is but one kind of gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. However, when we consider the range of religious literature, even that labeled “gnostic,” we seem to find a bewildering spectrum of gnoses. We might divide this spectrum into cosmological gnosis (insight into the hidden patterns in the cosmos), eschatological gnosis (insight into what transcends history and the cosmos), and metaphysical gnosis (insight into the divine), even though all of these may be seen as aspects of a single gnosis. And concerning metaphysical gnosis, or direct insight into the nature of the divine itself, we find two primary approaches that we may call visionary and unitive gnosis, corresponding to the via positiva and the via negativa discussed by Dionysius the Areopagite. The via positiva, or visionary approach, goes through images and the field of the imagination; the via negativa, or unitive approach, is the falling away of all images. It has become more or less commonplace, following Dionysius himself, to see the via negativa as superior to the via positiva. Dionysius writes that sacred revelation often proceeds through sacred images in which like represents like, while also using forms that are dissimilar, and even entirely inadequate and ridiculous (Cel. Hier. 140c). But he goes on to remark that a second way, of going beyond images entirely in the via negativa, is “more appropriate, for as the secret and sacred tradition has instructed, God is in no way like the things that have being, and we have no knowledge at all of his incomprehensible and ineffable transcendence” (Cel. Hier. 141a). What Dionysius observes here is extremely important, in particular his insistence on a secret and sacred tradition that the Divine completely transcends the realm of being. Dionysius’s observation—that God in no way resembles the things that have being—combats a tendency that, as we have already noted, is common to the traditions of the Book: taking writing literally. Literalism corresponds to what in Judaism was called “idolatry”: it reduces the Divine to human concepts that can be manipulated. This tendency may also be called “objectification,” and is a common function of language more generally. For language by its nature can separate us from what we are discussing: we objectify the Divine just as we objectify all that surrounds us, including nature and other people. But this process of objectification inherently separates us from what we see in this way: the very word God becomes a barrier to experiencing what that word means.
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In other words, gnostic knowledge is fundamentally different from ratiocinative knowledge, and the language to express gnosis must reflect this difference. Ratiocinative (from ratio, measure between things) knowledge belongs to the realm of division into subject and object: ‘I’ discuss ‘that.’ Such is the basis for modern science, and ratiocinative knowledge can be widely disseminated as information or data. By contrast, gnosis belongs to a secret or intimate tradition and cannot be widely disseminated as information because it does not belong to the realm of information and division at all, but instead to what transcends division. The scientific or ratiocinative path moves toward ever greater data about what is external; the gnostic path moves toward ever greater intimacy with what transcends both internal and external. Gnosis, then, is not at all a matter of ‘I’ discussing ‘that,’ but of going beyond the very division between ‘I’ and ‘that.’ The question, of course, is how one moves toward gnostic knowledge, and the answers to this question in the West comprise the Western esoteric traditions. The essential division offered by Dionysius the Areopagite between the via positiva and the via negativa helps us begin to discuss these answers in a schematic way, not because these two ways are at all opposed to each other, but because they illuminate each other. Indeed, they correspond rather closely to what we see in the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition, where visualization and a plethora of imagery express their own transcendence. The Prajnaparamita Sutra, with its verses on sheer transcendence of all that is sensory, does not invalidate but expresses the ultimate meaning of the countless Buddhist images often in the very hall where it is chanted. Likewise, in the Western esoteric traditions, one finds a vast range of imagery and means, but these are generally seen within the traditions as an expression of what transcends them. The problem here, and in language itself, is that it is all too easy to regard words or images as if they were the thing itself, to ‘fix’ or ‘congeal’ the inconceivable. This is a particularly likely problem when there is no widespread emphasis on the transcendent, as there is within Buddhism, or any continuous lineage of masters or teachers who could guide seekers or initiates. The Western esoteric traditions have largely remained catch-as-catch-can, defined perhaps best by the precarious relationship between an author and a reader through the medium of the book. And the Gnostic Basilides evidently recognized this, for in one of the only fragments attributed to him, he writes of the ineffable transcendent nothing, and notes that “what is called by a name is not absolutely ineffable, but it is not, for the truly ineffable is not ineffable, but ‘above every name which is named’ [Eph. 1.21] . . . Names are inadequate . . . Instead, by understanding without speech one must receive the properties of the things named” (Hipp. Ref. VII.viii). Actual direct experience of the transcendent is far more important than simply knowing the words. Basilides held that he belonged to a secret lineage that ran from Jesus to Matthias to himself, and primary in their revelation was nothingness, or
absolute transcendence. According to his rather bitter opponent Hippolytus, Basilides wrote that before the cosmos, “nothing” existed, “not matter, nor substance, nor the insubstantial, nor an absolute, nor a composite, not conceivable, or inconceivable, not sensible, not devoid of sense, not man, angel, or a god, nothing that has a name or is cognized by intellect” (Ref. VII.ix). Basilides’s emphasis—throughout what little we still have, quoted by Hippolytus from Basilides’s treatises—was consistently on sheer transcendence beyond the medium of human language, and corresponds to the via negativa of Dionysius the Areopagite. Indeed, given the series of negations here that very much resemble those of the Prajnaparamita Sutra in Buddhism, it is not surprising that Basilides is reputed to have been influenced by Buddhism. However, Basilides is not alone in his emphasis on the inconceivability of gnosis, its sheer transcendence of all ratiocination. So too Epiphanes wrote of the Gnostics that “The earliest originating principle was inconceivable, ineffable, and unnameable” (Ref. VI.xxxiv); and Marcus, during a Gnostic Eucharist, reportedly offered a chalice to a woman during the consecration, then received it back from her and said, ‘Grant that the inconceivable and ineffable Grace which existed prior to the universe, may fill thine inner man, and make abound in thee the gnosis of this grace, as she disseminates the seed of the mustard-tree upon good soil’ ” (Ref. VI.xxxv). A similar emphasis is to be found in Dionysius the Areopagite, in his treatise on the Divine Names, for instance, when he remarks that God is beyond all names and creatures, “transcendently and supernaturally, far above creatures, above their being and above their nature” (956B). He continues that “no unity or trinity, no number or oneness, no fruitfulness, indeed nothing that is or is known can proclaim that hiddenness . . . of the transcendent Godhead which transcends every being. There is no name for it and no expression” (981a). Paradoxically, by maintaining an emphasis on the ineffability of the divine, the Gnostics also maintained a via positiva of esoteric words, letters, numbers, and images. But this linguistic mysticism existed within the context of the absolute transcendence that it in fact manifests. In other words, letters, numbers, and images emerge out of the unbegotten, and represent the hidden patterns and harmonies of the cosmos that, by ‘following back,’ inevitably in turn lead one to the ineffable. It is well known that there are Hebrew systems of transforming letters into their numerical meanings, but what is perhaps less remarked upon is that there was an esoteric Greek tradition of such transformations too, probably carried over from Pythagorean and Neoplatonic sources. Thus we find the Gnostic Marcus maintained that the number of Jesus is 888, that the number of the dove is 801, and that the body of truth is composed of letters, the head by Alpha and Omega, the neck by Beta and Psi, and so forth. Sacred numbers, letters, and images reveal the esoteric forming powers of the cosmos. Each letter, according to this tradition, is produced by a particular
”3 In other words. and the entire name had thirty letters. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. in dreams. This name was composed of four syllables. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. there is earthly marriage. we find plays on naming and namelessness. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. or one will . but different aspects of the same way.xxxvi). we participate in what they represent. 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. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. 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. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. VI. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. Indeed.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. and its light “never sets.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. although we refer to them by the same names. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. embody. As we ‘read’ these images. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. 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. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. For instance. which is of a totally different order. sacred images. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. in the Gospel of Philip. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. we become intimate with them. not opposite or even complementary ways. or aeon. and numbers emerge in. and in religious experiences. words. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. the first of which had four letters. and reveal transcendence.
Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. The cosmos is no longer opaque. not hidden in the darkness and the night. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. the unnameable. .”4 In other words. is. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. not to arbitrary designations. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. 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. but rather. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. gnostic paradigms. indeed. 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. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. when one dies. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. divided consciousness. 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. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. but its inseparable companion. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. Rather. elusive. but is free in life and in death. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. The nameless and the named are not divided. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. The world has become the aeon. for the aeon is fullness for him. evokes.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. characteristic ways of understanding. for such a one the world is transparent. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. 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.
a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. without masters.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. A fourth characteristic is imagery. . however. letters. What is more. By contrast. . numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far.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. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. Here. to which I have already devoted some study. Even more intimately yet. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. According to rational consciousness. More intimately. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. which all proceed from the one only essence . Regeneration alone shows us the ground. They are only the sensible expression. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. of course. including Piers Ploughman. on which conventional mathematics is founded. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. my dear brother. a third characteristic. and are visible in major European literary works. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. everyone. in his own degree. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. whether visible or intellectual. which is the mystery of words and of the book. and therein we obtain the pure key. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. of the different properties of beings. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. woven together into a . separated from the subject who sees. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself.”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. Out of the gnoses of numbers. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. nor wholly from without. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. On the lowest level. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified.
Greek. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. numbers. and images. 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. but also to convey it. in one form or another. from antiquity to the present. taken together. Egyptian. images. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. . words. to become it. Its mysteries of names. letters. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. By following the courses of Western esotericism.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. Jewish and Christian and Greek. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. often do not hold at all. whether. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. 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. Roman. Christian. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. words. and traditions best express his understanding. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world.
and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere.2 H i s t o r i c a l C u r re n t s DIVINE SERVICE: C H I VA L R Y A N D T H E T R O U B A D O U R S It is. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. 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. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. The troubadour. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. sees her (or him. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. 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 we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. of course. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. 35 . The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories.
Much more likely that here. relying on implication and multivalent symbols.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. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. particularly the chivalric tradition. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. But when we look at these movements as a whole. that is to say. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow.E. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. . Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. Instead. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. likewise. never explicitly discussing. or love’s faithful. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. even surreptitious. is no. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. 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. for example. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. I think. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. Of course.
[as] if their innocence drew them back again. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. For instance. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. and this is the mystery of names. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. but God may have taken them back. and has a rich reward in heaven. noble angels. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. we are told. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. but there is another source. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. He found that a man named Flegetanis. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. whence had come the Grail. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. for the name disappears. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. In any event. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. then the chivalric life is his one desire. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. Hearing this. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. teacher of Eschenbach. For.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. a hermit. that is. Naturally. . most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. there is no need to erase it.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. worthy. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. occupying a middle ground between these. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. and to whom God sends his angel. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. both pagan and Christian. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. those who did not take sides.
of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. When inevitably she does so. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. Parzival. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. and at the end of the tale.38 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and of how the servants of the Grail fell on their knees before the Grail. then naming them one by one in Arabic. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. then their sorrows would end. Saturn to suffering. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. we will recall. 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. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question.2 The presence in this tale of astrological and other references to Judaism and Islam as well as to Asia (in the figure of Prester John) reminds us once again that the Grail tradition. but also with the changing of the moon. the spotted knight. Yet this implicit esotericism. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. and that is the exalted position of women. remains this-worldly in emphasis. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. For instance. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. in particular. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. and if he asked a Question. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . and that of all the Grail servers. like chivalric literature more generally. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. of course. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. entertaining. just as is Western esotericism more generally. The Grail. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. the knight is told by Feirifiz. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. And at the book’s conclusion. Rather.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness.” chiefly Saturn. Throughout the tale. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. He was to ask. of course. we are told to honor women.
This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. these being liberality. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. When Gawain. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. marking why Gawain is a fine man. in the image of the pentangle. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight .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. but with the five fingers. he ultimately feels shamed. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. like several others in the poem. At the end of Gawain. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. the five virtues. the number of maidens serving the Grail. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. loving kindness. And this green marks my second point of observation. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. courtesy. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. This famous passage. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. is marked with a tiny colored initial. with the five wounds of Christ. like Grail tales more generally. First. the first is the true knot. as I have elsewhere shown. Once again. continence. of course. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 39 ness and otherworldliness in the service of one’s chivalric duties and of the Grail is the key to chivalric literature more generally. and piety. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. and. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. 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. Yet in the story’s conclusion. Gawain’s symbol. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. part of a tradition that.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. the poem. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. in Gawain as in Parzival. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale.
/ And since talking directly can’t help us. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. like the chivalric orders. green is the color of nature.” The Friends of God were. Or again. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. to be renewed. growth. yet it is also the symbol of new life. and renewal. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. perhaps cunning can. One does find esoteric themes. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. This same duality inheres in the color green.” or “the Green Isle. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. Gawain. although a lay group. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). 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. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. the hidden divine messenger. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. and the illicit. yet at the same time. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses.”] Or again. pus nons val arditz.
and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . full of images. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. and exactly nine years later.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. Boethius. an intervening figure in the tradition. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. time. and his commentary. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. as in the Divine Comedy. is a visionary poem. like the great Divine Comedy. poems. Thus Dante’s greatest works. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. this time wearing a white dress. but the faculty of imaginal perception. In De consolatione. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. who lived during the fifth century. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. we end by passing beyond space. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. And of course. albeit more literary. There is. with a final vision about which he will not now write. Dante sees Beatrice again. calls upon the “book of memory.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. philosophical. This is. La Vita Nuova. 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. of course. Dante ends this strange work. and words and ideas into the empyrean. 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 here. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. in the ninth hour of the day. thrice-blessed Lady. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. as does the play that we see here on naming. of course.
Chaucer was not that kind of poet. And these are evoked . The two medieval currents we have been discussing here—the chivalric and the troubadour traditions—meet in two final figures whose work we must consider here—Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. This 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. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. the theater of art. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. We see in Chaucer’s tale. Chaucer. instrumentz. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. knarry. caroles.” “gastly for to see. Here. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. here.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. above all. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. however.” In that “portreiture. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. Earthy.” with “festes. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. and of divine service. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. especially of the knight for his lady. 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. with an oratory. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty.” Thus this tale. marked east and west by gates of marble. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. daunces” around her. known as a primary literary figure in English history.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. bareyne trees olde. 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. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. yet he went further. Chaucer was not an esotericist. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. Like Dante.” and by “kervere of ymages.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. But all the same.
we are given the meditations of the hermit. Lull.” The Art represents. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. The Book of Contemplation. and this is no accident. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. In the ninety-ninth chapter. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. These terms. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. (a kind of chivalric code). and of course his most well-known and influential works. In fact. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. not just a set of correspondences. The lover answered. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. bringing together the chivalric. Not surprisingly. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. “knowledge” and “remembrance. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. Lull was himself something of a troubadour.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. For although Lull. 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. like Chaucer. and indeed. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. 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. literature is not only entertainment. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. but with the advent of rationalism. one for each of the 365 days of the year. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action.” are familiar to students of . and Ars generalis ultima. At this juncture. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. until he was thirty. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. given its astonishing scope. was prolific. Ars brevis. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. (part of his romance Blanquerna). and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. troubadour. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative.
since my Beloved contains all. Here we find a clear condemnation. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. By means of these letters. 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. Of course. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. Originally. but of those done with the wrong attitude. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption.’ They asked him. not of figures. north and south. And through presumption. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. west.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. but for purposes of clarity. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. This extraordinary art. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. images. all errors are implanted in the world. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . images. The cosmos represents the divine writing. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. invoking evil spirits as good angels. and writings in themselves. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. Lull used more letters. rather than my Beloved in the world. as the readers of Lull’s book.” In this falsified knowledge. just as the writer is in his book. we are also participating in this relationship.’”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. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. and profaning holy things with figures. and by writings. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. and that is the book. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. Further. and writings. However. ‘Yes. and images. most of all in the exposition of his art. whose influence extended across Europe. that is. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. out of arrogance or presumption. he condensed his art into nine letters.
found in the Ars compendiosa. In the full art. has vast implications.” C signifies “greatness. for instance. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. B signifies. prudence. For instance.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. 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. . and numerous other arrangements. concordance. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. it includes and transcends logic. for example.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. tables. or that from the Ars brevis. trees. Of course his work is unique. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. and gluttony. justice. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. 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. Lull himself combined them using circles. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. 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. I— Veritas. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. 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. depending upon how the letters are combined. angel. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. triangles. “goodness. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. E—Potestas. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. At the same time. God. For this reason. and so forth. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. difference. whether?. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. what?. The Lullian art. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. Hence in many respects. B—Bonitas. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. emerging as it did largely in a Spanish ambience perfectly suited to the meeting not only of the primary currents of medieval Christian esotericism—including the chivalric and troubadour—but also of Islamic and Jewish esotericism. and avarice.
Chivalry influenced future esotericism by providing a code of conduct that as it became individualized or fed into smaller initiatory groups took on esoteric force even as it lost power as a system of social organization. however. but what is more. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. of course. intricately woven. . Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. but this is virtually never the case. It is. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. 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. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum.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. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. French. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. the chivalric. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. And as literature. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. Christian. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. In these traditions. But there is another element as well that we must recognize: all of these authors in turn manifest unique combinations of tendencies or currents that preëxist and transcend them. the words. troubadour. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism.or eighteenth-century German. and Freemasonry. Rosicrucianism. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. or English gnostic. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. Rather. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions.
which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. and Kabbalism more generally. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. terminology. But the Bahir. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. number. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. . Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir.E.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah.8 But for our purposes. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours.” Scholem concludes. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. The book Bahir. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. dating to the Talmudic period. and cosmogony. And in fact. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. and thus Kabbalism. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. Castile.9 Yet at the same time. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. but also in that they consciously sought to keep this tradition hidden from the general public even while composing copious works that derive from the long tradition of interconnections between literature and religion. also may have roots elsewhere. 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. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. “The affinity with the language. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. for instance. disclosing them only in parabolic language. and elsewhere in Europe. For instance. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings.
supported by some contemporary testimony. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. but another view. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver.11 Of course. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. For example. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. In section 124.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. said to symbolize the abdomen. 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. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. and natural realms at once. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be.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. caught up in the spirit. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). in one section we read of an “alphabetic hymn which contains the mystery of the twenty-two sacred celestial letters which are decorated with a crown made of the Patriarchs and the holy heavenly Chariot. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. he wrote the entire work without any precedent.” Indeed.” (that is. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. writing the Names of God) and through this power. spiritual. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. which comprise a total of 613 letters. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. including the human body. But in any event. informing the cultural. 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. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. as a female is fertilized from the male. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . the tonal accents. for example.
and yod in turn becomes twenty. . Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. the essence of everything. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life.”14 In other words.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. we are told. speech. forty. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. all comprehension and thought.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. in this context. eighty. why it is no doubt so profoundly difficult to translate it: it is an inordinately difficult work that requires oral exegesis because it clearly emerges from direct spiritual experience.” which may or may not itself be an “a. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. .” One can easily see.”18 This. in the Fountain of Wisdom. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. Here. from reading this extraordinary work. 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. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. corresponding to yod. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. For instance.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. yet when these Names are removed. so to say. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. whispering. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. but My Face will not be seen. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. utterance. or aleph. Through this kind of multiplication.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. made transparent so .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. action . one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt. all are found in this Name.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. out of it emerges the Names.” about which no one. voice. the tenth letter. an ¯ “ether. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. . is allowed to ask questions. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a.”17 By investigation.” Thus we can see how by way of ascent through the Names one arrives at the hidden true nature of existence—and within this is the mystery of the a. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. . inquiry . and 160. not even Moses.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God.
that of hardened or congealed materiality.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. then. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. but from the other. Medieval Kabbalism. is not only cosmological. not from this side. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. broadly speaking. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness.20 For that matter. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. ’En sof literally means “infinity. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. including thought.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. but also metaphysical. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. as Scholem remarks. sometimes without. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. emerges. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . All of these exist. 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. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. Indeed. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena.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 so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically.
lar thing as language is its essential life.”21 In fact, for the Kabbalists letters have a plastic quality: in forming words, they are forming also the actual divine nature of things, so that to enter into the mysteries of words is to penetrate beyond language as we ordinarily conceive it into the hidden nature of God himself. Here again we have come upon the dual nature of language: there is exoteric language, which is veiling and limited; and there is esoteric language, which is unveiling and virtually unlimited in its ramifications. Particularly in the case of Kabbalistic word and letter combination can we say that esoteric uses of language are virtually unlimited in effect, for Kabbalism has since at least the time of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (c. 1165–1230) and Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (c. 1240–1292) employed techniques of linguistic recombination that in turn, if practiced over a period of time, result in ecstasy and visionary illumination. In the case of R. Eleazar and Abraham Abulafia, the technique entails combining the Tetragrammaton with the letters of the alphabet in order to bring one to a transcendent state of divine knowledge or gnosis. According to Abulafia, this technique, which requires isolation, prolonged practice, and special breathing techniques, “draws down the supernal force in order to unite it with you.”22 Thus esoteric language is not only a guide toward gnosis, it is here the actual means to gnosis. Central to Kabbalism is esoteric language. Isaac of Acre, for instance, distinguished between the mere acquisition of knowledge through ordinary learning and the direct gnosis by the intellect.23 And his predecessor Isaac the Blind used the analogy of a great tree, in which inward and subtle essences of wisdom (hokhmah) exist and move through the tree like sap. We partake of this wisdom, or sap, by “sucking,” which is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge from that gained by ordinary reading; it is a participatory gnosis in which we directly experience the essence-language of creation itself, moving in and through all that is. Here again we have reading and writing that go far beyond what we ordinarily regard them as—here esotericism and literature are totally fused. Such analogies and definitions as that of the tree, or “sucking,” or for that matter of celestial reading and writing, do indeed correspond to those of the ancient Gnostics; and like the ancient Gnostics, the Kabbalists too produced a wild profusion of works expressing variants of a complex and profound cosmology, as well as a metaphysics of absolute transcendence. In Kabbalism, as in ancient Gnosticism, we find the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, to be prominent, and indeed even find the teaching in Kabbalah of the higher and lower Shekhinah, which parallels the teachings of some Gnostic sects regarding a higher and lower Sophia. There are numerous parallels, but this does not mean that there was direct influence. In any event, this profusion of Kabbalistic works and teachings in turn was to have an immense influence on the subsequent history of Western esoteric
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traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of
language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century
that is. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. . literature represents portals into the transcendent. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights.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. ramified throughout religious and literary history. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. Such an approach to literature. Indeed. intricacy. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. In the eighteenth century. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. which is. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. Here. much less the possibility of transcendence. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. In the twentieth century. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. and beauty. where one finds literature and religion fused. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. that ultimately all beings will be saved. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. To such approaches. however unfamiliar to us today. Spain. after all. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. For Kabbalah. or vice versa. And when we look at Kabbalism. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. surface is nothing and depth is everything. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. or vice versa. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. But before discussing these implications. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent.
not entirely ‘pagan. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. like the alchemical expression or riddle. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. on the other transmitted by way of literature. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. we cannot help but notice religious references. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. to work it through. So too. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. When we look at European alchemical works. as we saw earlier. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. However. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. alchemy. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 55 T H E T R A N S F I G U R AT I O N O F E A R T H : A L C H E M I C A L L I T E R AT U R E Undoubtedly among the most enigmatic traditions of the human inheritance. hence on the one hand religious. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. Of course. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. To the first-time observer. forces one to wrestle with it alone. . but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. itself also highly literary: the koan. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. as the “art of Hermes.’ yet not entirely Christian. Indeed. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary.
To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. and the spiritualizing of the body. in the revelation of paradise. All of these authors did write on alchemy. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. at heart. put another way. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. Ramon Lull. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. 825–932 C.E. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. even if it does not entirely belong to these. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). One places oneself in the line of what is. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). Indeed. . 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. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. be they in the mineral. 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. plant. even if its work resembles these in some respects. and takes place by way of fire. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition.. thirteenth century). or the animal kingdom. Roger Bacon. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. the vegetable.E. Synesius. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. Thus. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. or al-Rhazi (ca. either. that is. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. the embodying of spirit. After all. Olympiodoros. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. a tradition transmitted through literature. For alchemy extends into many realms. as has historical placement. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission.E. and Morienus of the seventh century C. George Ripley (fifteenth 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.. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present.—latinized as Rhazes). refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. alchemical literature.
the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. Here. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. Thomas Norton. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. and thou knowest all. Maier. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. bracketed by mythological references. and are to come. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. His title.” that is. it is enough.” In other words. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. . . seek not many utensils for thy labor. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. in his preface. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. of course. Indeed. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. “The Golden Tripod. were. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. and gave it to us by mighty toil. composer.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. . For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. which Vulcan cast into the sea. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. physician. and author Michael Maier. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. If thou knowest the substance and the method.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century).
the queen a three-flowered plant. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. a king and a queen. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. 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. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. while around him are various figures. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. in the background a dead tree stump. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. over a fire. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. as well as an angel blowing a horn. and proved of the greatest efficacy. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. that which is visible. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. experiences a renovation of his whole nature.” With its spiritual essence. . and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. being bereft of images . while the Moon.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. is at once literary and practical. and the text tells us how at the end of the world.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. including two archers shooting at targets. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. a half-naked man with a scythe. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. the Sun. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. and a man sowing seeds. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. the king bearing a staff. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. to become impalpable . and this Mars has done. and that which is palpable. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. before him a burning barrel. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box.” pleads the case of her husband. Shortly thereafter. to be invisible. despite its elliptical means of expression. . and to the queen’s left. on the far left side a single candle. Here you see the perfection of our Art. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth.
and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. and prepared in about four days. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. Such. a man named Herbert. and so was let go. three of rabusenum. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. two of orange arsenic. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. Cremer in this. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. In recent times. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton.”35 And indeed. of . of course.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. his last testament. and two of willow charcoal. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. Dalton said he was happy to die. two of living sulphur. we are told. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. Thus we can see that Cremer’s instructions are in fact quite specific and truly are largely devoid of the literary passages found in the previous two tracts. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. 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. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. strong and pure. and tortured for four years. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. we can understand why he should impose such conditions.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. this treatise of Cremer is clearly regarded by him as a revelation of a great and powerful mystery that must not be revealed to the vulgar. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate.
One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. Paracelsus tells us. then. According to Paracelsus. But in any event. fire. vegetable. Of course. not merely from the outside and as other. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. its subtle essence. air. one branch of alchemy. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. poems. epigrams. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. for they occupy different dimensions within it. but is joined with them in the imagination. not only by looking at words on a page. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. but also through the power of the imagination. one may know the inner nature of anything. not all evestra are benefic. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. Imagination governs the development of things. Spagyric medicine. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. Through these evestra. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. water. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. We may ‘read. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. Confronted with such a colloquy. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. and animal realms. allegories.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant.’ then. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. ethereal counterparts. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. literary allusions. 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. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. To say. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. And of course. to carry it within.
” and to a host of Biblical references. 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. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. 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. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. including Romans 1. light air. . and this is characteristic of the work as whole. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. the true medicine and theology. like Cremer’s testament. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. wine. Of course. fire. more real than what we see in the physical.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. This is the true Ground of Nature . the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. The terms used in its title—oil. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. II Chronicles 13:5. Genesis 1:27. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . may be interpreted in both ways at once. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. . these two poles became further separated. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian.74). confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. . bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. and mist. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. and so forth. emphasize their recipe quality. 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. it is entirely real.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. It is as though here alchemy. but that in this particular worldview. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. like Valentinus’s. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. as a spirit. while others. a matter of . . empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. indeed. but here are clearly spiritualized. philosophy. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy.
But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. or Water is. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. 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. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. a true Astrologus. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. In fact. the depths. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. inward dimension. the author writes “That the earth is dark. and a true Medicus. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. And so we find the three One. easily translates into a dominant religion. spiritual dimensions of the work. that is the mystery wherein all lies. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. but the Sun light. Oil. Oil. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. Thus. we are told. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. . and when either one is absent. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. just as we find for instance Islamic . and one three . nor whence they emerge (II. However.105). like Hermeticism.83). Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it.83). for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. as a kind of counterpoint. Fire. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. Yet alchemy. in harmony” (II. is a perspective that is all depth. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. Water. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature.93). of existence. and hence we find a Christian alchemy.77). these terms have an alchemical provenance. Salt. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. . Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt.80). but here. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy.
albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. on mercury. Pordage’s work. Christian theosophy. and gnostic metaphysics. beginning with the organization of the first section. Within each of these broad sections are individual chapters whose content begins with chemical or alchemical topics and moves through these to theosophic or gnostic themes such as “The urangelical world. and of the third. But such rumors aside. This is not . including “Chymie” or alchemy. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. and he and his spiritual circle. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. 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. on sulfur. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. astrological. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. Kabbalah. from spiritual to physical. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. of course. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. 1675). and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. of the second. astrology. on salt. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. The implication.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. not merely a pastiche. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. Indeed. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. and Kabbalistic themes. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy.
he elided many details. in other words. and instructions. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt.” and so forth. At the same time. meaning the transcendent Godhead. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol.” Further. 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 . His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. to properly prepare mercury. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. we see compressed into a single illustration a whole array of esoteric influences to form a seamless synthesis whose surrounding perspective (visible in the use of Böhme’s term Ungrund to frame the entire illustration) is theosophic. charts. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. For instance. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. . Here. .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. Indeed. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. including D. . but might well also be called pansophic. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. Christian scripture. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. diagrams. of Pisa. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols.” “Cherubim. “Alchimische Fragen. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. tables. and “Manna Coeleste. or mercury. with a plethora of astrological symbols. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. . The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. and calcify it by hand. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. sulfur. diagrams. and in this regard he succeeded. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet.” “Thronen. das himmlische Manna genannt. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. then in a Liquorem .
but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. including not only chemicals and equipment. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. of course. Thus we may well say that. broadly seen. but even more in the perfection of humanity. and that we will shortly examine further.’ in the broadest possible sense. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. is a relatively modern phenomenon. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. both seek to perfect this creativity. air.’ There is. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. for example. like a painting. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. Alchemy.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. fire. 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. but also in the microcosm of the artist. as well as with what these represent. however far-reaching. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. letters. we can easily see. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. recipes. vegetable. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. alchemy is like learning to use a language. and images. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. Here. a natural homology between alchemy and art. so that everything—mineral. or grammars. In some respects. and to ‘write. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. animal. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. One must learn both to ‘read. of course. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. water. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. Alchemy. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. In this sense. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself.
Just as in Christian mysticism one finds that lines of influence are chiefly and perhaps sometimes exclusively literary— inspiration leaps from Dionysius to John Scotus Erigena to Eckhart and Tauler. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. Here in alchemy.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. nature. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. one would have the solution. 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. Contemporary views of literature. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions.’ in the case of alchemy. and the divine in ever more profound ways. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. and science are one. both of physics and of literary criticism. literature. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. It is true that more recently theorists. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. and the restoration of the right . religion. The ‘solution. However. no doubt of that. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. 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. were one to decipher what x and y mean. between subject and object. In alchemy. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. humanity. Rather. extends into a range of realms at once. But in alchemical works. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. This is by no means to suggest. in the manner of a mathematical equation. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. between the observer and that which is observed. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. Indeed. like those of science. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. like Jung. In Christian terms. humanity. I would use the word decoding. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. and the divine. Oral commentary by a master is important. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader.
in particular Christian theosophy. and Freemasonry. against ourselves.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. and twentieth centuries. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. PA N S O P H I C . nineteenth. R O S I C R U C I A N . it has not only continued to exist to the present day. pansophy. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. and against the divine. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. Rosicrucianism. In the study of Western esotericism. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. As we have seen. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. Indeed. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. in the modern era. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. We should also keep in mind the growing split. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. between the sciences and the . it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. A N D M A S O N I C L I T E R AT U R E Although Western esoteric traditions may be studied in isolation. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. divided against the world. 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. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . So it is with alchemy. especially during the eighteenth. but in relation to a host of other currents. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity.
from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. the fields of alchemy. and in religion. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. in the sciences. medicine and astrology. in the arts. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. and drawing from his visionary experiences. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. and Franz von Baader. near Poland. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. practiced medicine and astrology. John Pordage.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. However. including. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. But Western esotericism. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. as well as De Signatura . at least in the secular world. the emergence of biology. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. illustration and literature. nor is that our aim. It is true that. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. quite the opposite movement. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. and geology. the discovery of more complex technology. comparative and syncretic. wrote literary works. The Copernican revolution. a city on the eastern side of Germany. Indeed. physical chemistry from metaphysics. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. or Aurora. this sense of unity dissolved. say. in Western esotericism we find. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. rather than seeking to separate.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. archaeology. our approach being thematic. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. Rather. to name only a few of the most luminary. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. chemistry. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. explored theology and metaphysics. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism.
Rerum (The Signature of All Things), Christosophia, and numerous letters and shorter works. Even these titles reveal the connections between Böhme and the earlier traditions we have discussed: Mysterium Magnum, with its elaborate exegesis of Genesis, is certainly indebted to the Kabbalistic tradition; The Signature of All Things is an extended discussion of, among many topics, the Hermetic doctrine of signatures developed by Paracelsus; and Christosophia, often translated as The Way to Christ, entails a chivalric ethic of fidelity to the feminine figure of Wisdom, the Virgin Sophia. What is more, there unquestionably are profound parallels between Böhme’s writings and ancient Gnosticism, parallels that became even clearer in later theosophic figures like the English Philadelphians.43 Thus we can see how Böhmean theosophy reveals the syncretism so characteristic of modern esotericism more generally; here numerous traditions meet and are fused into a profound new union that was to have enormous influence on the subsequent history of Western esotericism. Böhme’s work, according to his own testimony, derived chiefly from his own personal experience, but there is evidence that he had extensive contacts with Hermetic and Kabbalistic circles of his day, including lengthy discussions with Abraham von Frankenberg, himself an author on Kabbalistic subjects. That Böhme’s writing emerged from his own visionary perceptions and inspiration is unquestionable, for he wrote with authority and certainty about a vast range of cosmological and metaphysical principles. What is more, he developed a particular language, drawing upon Hermetic, alchemical, and Kabbalistic sources, to express this inspiration, a special terminology with both Latinate and Germanic roots. But Böhme drew from prior traditions as well, and his work may be described as unique or as a brilliant synthesis, for both are true. Although Böhme’s terminology and mode of expression are often difficult, the basic elements of his thought are not. It is true that Böhme presents a complex cosmology, with his exposition of the Ungrund, or abyss, that precedes existence and that corresponds in Kabbalism to the ’en sof, and in Christian mysticism to Eckhart’s Godhead; with his exposition of the seven source-spirits; and with his unfamiliar terms like limbus, lubet, and schrack, describing hidden principles or aspects of the creative process. Yet Böhme has been popular for centuries—from Germany to Russia and America—among those drawn to direct spiritual experience, and this popularity derives from the fact that while his doctrines are almost inexhaustible, the fundamental nature of Böhme’s teaching is clear and simple. Here I will compress a great deal in the hope of sketching the outlines of Böhme’s thought. Böhme held that before the cosmos came into being, there was the Ungrund, or transcendent abyssal origin. From this emerged two realms, the dark-world of wrath and the paradisal light-world, and after a series of primal catastrophes, a “third principle,” physical nature. Human beings
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can participate in all three of these principles; some people belong to the wrathworld of fury and destructiveness, some to the paradisal light-world, but mostly we find ourselves mediating among all of these. Our purpose as human beings, simply put, is to transmute the wrath-quality in ourselves into paradisal light and love. This process of transmutation, a kind of spiritual alchemy, is true religion; without it, religion is merely outward “Babel,” the appearance without the reality. Böhme’s approach to language is of particular interest to us, for, quite in line with the numerous currents of the Western esoteric traditions that preceded him, Böhme created a complex linguistic mysticism. In Aurora, Böhme’s first book, he introduced this mysticism of the word, writing that “The whole power of the Father speaks, out of all the qualities, the Word, i.e., the Son of God. The same word, or the same sound, spoken by the Father, issues out of the Salniter, or the powers of the Father, and out of the Father’s Mercurius, or sound . . . for the outspoken Word remains as a glory or majestic command before the king, but the sound, issuing through the word, executes the command of the Father which he has spoken through the word, and in this is the birth of the Holy Trinity. The same takes place in an angel or in a man” (vi.2). Böhme’s language here is resonant with alchemical and Jewish allusions, but these allusions appear in a clearly Christian context, and although they refer to the Word in the Trinity, they also refer to the word in humanity. Böhme extends this linguistic mysticism to every living thing. In his giant commentary on Genesis, Mysterium Magnum, he writes that “every creature has its own center for its outspeaking, or the sound of the formed word within itself, both eternal and temporal beings: the unreasoning ones as well as man; for the first Ens has been spoken out of the sound of God, by Wisdom, out of her center into the fire and light, and has been formed into the fiat, and entered into compaction. The Ens is out of the eternal, but the compaction is out of the temporal, and therefore in everything there is something eternal hidden in time” (xxii.2). Here Böhme elaborates on the metaphysics of what he also discusses in De Signatura Rerum, the esoteric view older than Pythagoras that everything in creation emerges out of its resonating linguistic, sonic, energetic origin as an emanation or manifestation of an archetype. What is more, there is a teleological significance to this doctrine. For if all beings preëxist their material manifestation in the archetypal realm of the word, after manifestation each manifested thing will return to its transcendent origin, that belonging to love returning to love and that belonging to wrath returning to wrath. Böhme writes: “In that quality in which each word in the human voice in the act of outspeaking forms and manifests itself, either in the love of God, as in the Holy Ens, or in the wrath of God; in the same quality will it be taken up again therein after it has been spoken out. The false word becomes infected by the devil, and sealed up for its [future] detriment, and is received within the
Mysterium of the wrath, in the quality of the dark-world. Each thing returns with its Ens to where it has originated” (xxii.6). This is not predestination, exactly, but rather the sifting of the chaff from the wheat at time’s end. We can see here how language is intimately tied up with the metaphysics of love and wrath. In the fallen world, wrathfulness is the principle of separation and objectification as well as of anger, and so the language of extreme ratiocination also belongs to the wrath. Reason has its place, but when it becomes separated from love, it becomes objectifying and destructive and a functionary of wrath, while language divorced from its transcendent origin becomes Babel or babble. Yet all of this refers to the fallen world, the sphere of discord, chaos, confusion. The means of order’s restoration is the Word, the restoration of light and love in one’s life. But such a restoration takes place through a process of awakening or illumination that is a process of transmuting wrath into love, darkness into light. This process is also that of restoring language from its fallen state (as a means of objectification) into its primordial state of union. This process is the awakening of the true Word in us. Böhme writes that “our whole religion consists in learning how to go out of dissension and vanity and to reënter the one Tree, whence we have come in Adam, and which is Christ in us” (Regener, viii.2). Thus, “he who fully enters into this state of divine rest in Christ arrives through Him at the perception of divinity. He then sees God in himself and everywhere; he speaks with God and God speaks with him, and he understands what is the Word, Essence, and Will of God. Such a one, and no other, is capable of teaching the Word of God himself: for God is one with him, and he wills nothing but what God wills through him” (Mysterium Magnum, xlii.63). The Word of God here has special and profound meaning; it refers to the essence of deity, the transcendent origin of existence. And by realizing this Word, one restores all subordinate language as well as nature itself (whose creatures each also incarnate divine signatures or words) to their primordial unitive or paradisal state. From all of this we can see that the fundamental impetus of Böhme’s work is integrative, not on a cultural so much as on an individual, primal level. Böhme calls the individual toward reintegration or union, and it is the individual nature of this call that has subsequently attracted so many people, in such diverse social situations, toward theosophy. But at the same time, we can easily see how this same integrative impulse aimed at individual transformation could as well be applied on a wider cultural scale, as for instance as the foundation of an effort to reunify the sciences and the humanities with religion. And in fact, such an effort is precisely what we find happening over the century following Böhme’s life, in the movement called Rosicrucianism. It may be, as some scholars have speculated, that Böhme was himself familiar with the same movement which, ten years before Böhme’s death, began to emerge under the name Rosicrucian, with the publication of the
and later. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. translates the “book M.” These “Books of Nature. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. of Christian theosophy as well. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes.. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted.. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. returns eventually to Germany. The Rosicrucians’ goal. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . Not coincidentally. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. even if at times such orders did exist. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. Indeed. like its complement the Confessio. and this is the “book M. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth.” C. according to the Fama. “or a perfect method of all arts.” however. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. if not universalism. R. For from the very beginning of the Fama. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means.”46 When C.” into good Latin from Arabic. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. they could collect Librum Naturae. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. caused a great stir in Europe. and why he is called Microcosmos. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. are to be collected by the wise. like us. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. R. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. Hermeticism. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. in the Orient. C. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. But in any event.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. 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. R. R. generally speaking.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). And of course this brief work.
. or are able to believe or utter. undestroyed. 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. but follow only Christ. .”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. called I. Yet once again. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . The description is often hard to follow. . and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. and come into our brotherhood. are now. Among other questions. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. and hidden to the wicked world. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. and by them was made the magical language and writing. wish. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. is. and arts. “After this manner. so that no one might later be deceived. and of reading the mysterious book of books.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. . recur as well in the Confessio. sciences.” There is more. like the book. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. Interestingly. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. belongs to the mind and imagination. it is to read the universal book. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. a century old. . . the foundations and contents of all faculties. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . and shall be) hath been. of eclecticism or universalism. they also made the first part of the book M. first. full of geometric symbolism.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self.” the Fama continues. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. of the uniting of all arts and sciences.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. that you could so read in one only book. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. with a large dictionary . or hope for. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. every one with their several figures and sentences. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. by four persons only. than that which is the head and sum. and withal by reading understand and remember. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions.
From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. . and endue them with learning . or sixth age. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. . and have found out. a very long history in the West.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. and writing in a “magic language. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. for instance. and made. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. All of this. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. for instance. . metahistorical events at the end of time. and above all. . without and against the will of God. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. 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.”55 The implication is that here. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. . It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. of course. yea.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. and quite probably to Egypt. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . or worse than nothing. a new language for ourselves. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly.” Such an idea of a magic language has. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. into all beasts . . 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. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. of course.”52 “These characters and letters. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. with the date 1604. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. the Bible. yea. yet shall we never be manifested . the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. a new era for mankind.
as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. was of a non-sectarian. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. peaceful. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. as well as in subsequent literature. discovered the “Enochian language.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. and the outrageously baroque. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. the Confessio. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. or why. Dee’s Enochian language is important because no less an authority than Frances Yates concluded that the single most important figure in the appearance of early Rosicrucianism is in fact John Dee. demons. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. The emergence of these three works— and their implication that there existed in Europe a secret high order of adepts who possessed the keys to the hidden language of the cosmos—naturally caused a sensation. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. disappearing around 1620. Here. or pansophia. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. as Frances Yates notes. or intelligences. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . particularly in France.’s tomb. The Rosicrucian dream. 1604. on a pansophic mysticism. 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.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War.” 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. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. R. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. who. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. that is. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. and it too has been used in magical workings. John Dee (1527–1604). and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. By 1623. brilliant. Here.
alchemy. 1618)]. including.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. The most obviously included is natural magic. Ruechlin. alchemical. not specifically Christian. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. Christian or not. or magia naturalis. which is specifically Christian gnosis. and inquiry into nature more generally.p. The pansophic view. magical. various forms of magic. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . and technologism. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. We might recall that. Paracelsus. often with Kabbalistic influence. mechanism. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. herbalism. It is true that chemistry. in order to form the basis for a new. healing. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. but like Dee. cabalistic. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. of course. Pansophy. in contrast to theosophy. derived from alchemy. is universal. The emergence of a pansophic approach to esotericism seems very much a counterbalance to the emergent extreme rationalism and materialism that also gave birth to scientism. 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.. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. Once Taught in the Magia of the Egyptians and Persians and Now Rightly Called the Pansophia of the Venerable Society of the Rosy Cross (n. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. and gnostic. cabala. it emphasizes magic. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. In many respects. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. for instance. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. and Michael Maier. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied.
at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. de La Rose-Croix.A. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. Metaphysica. in later Rosicrucianism. almost all. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. even if it is illicit. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. In some respects. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582.. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. magic squares. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. chiefly under the title Physica. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. planetary correspondences.O.M. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. Among the first of these. of vast and intricate tables. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. diagrams.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. as a somewhat medieval figure. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. nee non Magia. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. and much else. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. we tend to think of Faust. et Hyperphysica. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. and a series of . including a French edition titled F. Philosophia. including sorcery. D. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. But Chemistry]. Cabball.
also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. and with the word Chaos. in time and in eternity. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. in scholastic theology. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. yet there is ample reason to use such a term.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. John Dee. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world. of course. and Holy Spirit. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science.” “Animal Seed.M. for instance. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period.O.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. the greatest occultist of his day. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land.A. marked also Father.” and “Mineral Seed. .A. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. Here.” and so forth. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography.” “Heavenly Seed.M.O. of its hyperphysical dimensions. 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. here we have a different focus. partaking in both. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. Son. surrounded by winged angelic forms.” “Vegetable Seed.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. for instance. that is. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. in visual form. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. or to Rosicrucianism. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew.
We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). not so very long ago. of course. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. theosophic. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. Another such figure. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. stretching right into the nineteenth century. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. but published only in German). Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. was John Heydon. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. originally a scientist. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. and associated with the vast . when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. author of such works as Theomagia. Freemasonry. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. science. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). unlike these other more individualistic movements. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. of course. in other words. or the Temple of Wisdom. invented an industrial process. truly a Renaissance man. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. the arts. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. which. the social and political realm. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. (London: 1665). who studied minerology. One sees this also. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. and specifically. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. not a visionary. For all of the Rosicrucian. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms.
Indeed. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. in 1616 and 1617. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. having received a knighthood for his military service. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. of course. the arts. there seems little doubt that Rosicrucianism itself— whose apocalyptic hopes for an immediate reform of humanity were dashed by the reality of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany—in turn fed into the Masonic stream. and the sciences. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. Martianus Capella and. Indeed.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. Like Paracelsus himself. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. the same time that saw Fludd’s publication of his History by de Bry saw his publication also of two treatises in Latin defending the “Fraternity of the Rosy Cross. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. and Rosicrucianism. Jewish.” published in Leiden. but the Freemasons endured the longest. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. Fludd. and although . It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. of course. the Kabbalah. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. Plato and the Bible. on which he explicitly drew. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. 1617). Masonry. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. 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. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. Robert Fludd went to St. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. and during this time began work on his major treatises. Such publication was. semireligious occult fraternity. not surprisingly. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. his father. Of course. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. to a speculative. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. Sir Thomas Fludd. John’s College in Oxford.
it was clear to Fludd that identification with the Rosicrucians subjected one to much public vitriol—Fludd had been the subject of bitter attacks by a French monk. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. Himself an alchemist. born to an aristocratic family. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole.” Elias Ashmole. . Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. astrologer. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. Ashmole. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. Dr. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. Arthur Dee.”61 But for our purposes.60 Then again. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. Dee’s son. By the early 1630s. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. and who collected much on and by John Dee—so that one might well say that the esoteric movement here went from England to the Continent. John Dee. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. 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. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. But in any event. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. and assiduous bibliophile. Marin Mersenne. and back to England. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply.
Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. but they are in any case gnostic. except to his own spiritual son. and John Comenius (1592–1690). Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. . and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. was not simply an antiquarian. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. All of this. . editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. and must remain so. using a symbolic metalanguage.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. and only philosophers of the English Revolution. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together.62 Backhouse’s father. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. The true name is hidden. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. the real . never referred to it again. or as Kabbalistic. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. Samuel.64 These three men. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. of course.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). It is significant that Ashmole.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. of course. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). . Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . one could ignore it. when Backhouse thought he was dying. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. John Dury (1596–1680).”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. . after recording this revelation.
visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). according to the Constitutions. 3. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. Such a language. Freemasonry. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. 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. Chymical. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. The aim of a magical language is. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. 2. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. and Mechanical. But most important for us is the final point.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. Also important here is the third point. However.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. . .” certainly a pansophic goal. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. like the symbolism of alchemy. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. Early in the eighteenth century. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. Philosophicall. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . 4. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. . needless to say.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. . Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. . Arts and Sciences. 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. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures.
one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). Italy. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. On the other hand. And during this time. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. for instance. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743).84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. had an exoteric. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. a theosophic circle in London. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. On the one hand. fraternal Freemasonry. and master mason. luminous. solid. Ramsay. with its general tendency to reject. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. The work has already been commenced in London. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. including. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. great. England. or ignore esotericism. became prominent in French Masonry. nonsectarian basis. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. After her death. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. suppress. Masonic values of rationalism. especially in France. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. fellow craftsman. In it.68 Within Masonry itself. . after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. it is not surprising that this project. 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. while publishing numerous books. . In this oration. excepting only theology and politics. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. . especially in England. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. and indeed. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. deism. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . announced in Ramsay’s oration. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals.
Rosicrucian. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building.8).” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. six for the clergy. to wit I am. that is. theosophic. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. even to this day. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. and six for the fellow craft. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. by which. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. In the Graham manuscript of 1726.”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. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. based as it is on the craft of building. I answer it was God in six Terminations. . God has sealed the six directions of space.” In other words. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. Freemasonry. In other words. As we have already seen. 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. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. which is as follows: one word for a divine. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. specifically.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. Indeed. of human and divine architecture both.
which has been sporadically realized by individuals. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. Finally. the theme of our next section. . joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. and the divine. And this role is played out through reading and writing. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. in Western esotericism. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. Above all. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. Rosicrucianism. its secret “silable. of course. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. and Christian theosophy. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. not consume it. pansophy. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. What is more. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. but as the actual medium linking humanity. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. magic. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. nature. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. including humanity). For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. Here. not just as the means of communication among people.” or signature. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. including alchemy. Here. For according to Western esotericism generally. Masonry. Kabbalah.
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 ) . .
from .Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .
Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. . edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.). Theosophia Revelata.
.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.).
oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme.). .
O p u s M a g o .Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph. Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund.
Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration.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.Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . . O p u s M a g o . (Frankfurt: 1784).
O p u s M a g o . .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .
Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations.” 1988. “The Music of Dawn.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. and the evocative. . otherworldly nature of Collins’s work.
” 1976. .Figure 10 Cecil Collins. “Paradise.
something remarkable happens at the play’s end. Which is most faint. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. has brought the play’s action to an end.3 Modern Implications P R O S P E R O ’ S WA N D : M O D E R N E S O T E R I C L I T E R AT U R E In the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. Now I want Spirits to enforce. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. And pardoned the deceiver. And what strength I have’s my own. dwell In this bare island by your spell. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. Or sent to Naples. The Tempest. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. the magician Prospero. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . The main character. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. or else my project fails. Which was to please.
88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. Here. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. by virtue of his skill with words. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. and freed him. 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. there are numbers. today. is a prosaic matter. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. In this most magical of plays. Suddenly. As you from crimes would pardoned be. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. is to touch the nature of being itself. letters. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. to sing or to say into being. E. but there is no transference of magical power. standing above a reclining woman. in effect gives his wand to his audience. where the poet-singer is. In all of these esoteric traditions. are the magicians. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. Initially. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). shows a tall. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. to the audience. as audience. often little more than the accumulation of data. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. having relinquished his magical power. That is. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. also a magician. to invoke the forces of creation itself. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. we realize that we. for most of us. To incant is to enchant. for instance. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. traditionally. via the main character. it is often inverted and does not . Reading. Rosicrucianism. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. Conventionally. winged creature in an ornate room. Let your indulgence set me free. pansophy. and words—often Hebrew. Here Prospero. and Freemasonry. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. Warlick. To be a vehicle for the right words. for example.
Naturally. more . It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. and so I will not discuss them further here. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. as with Yeats or H. Milosz traveled widely. with sections on each of the major currents. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. his mother Jewish. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. turning then to H. split further into sections on poetry and prose. not only in the case of Ernst. and perhaps for someone else to do.. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. for instance. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. But his learning is of a particular kind. Here. V. during which time his family sold their estate. I will leave such a project for another time. D. Canticle of Knowledge: O.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 89 seem to convey a particular kind of esoteric understanding. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. D.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. sometimes more implicitly. to the magical fiction of C. third. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. S. as can in fact be said of the works of. and entry. the poet H. sometimes explicitly. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. horizontal survey is of value. After a good education. of even greater value is a vertical. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). his parents somewhat cold and aloof. D.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. secular or not. However. for instance. into the world of French intelligentsia. V. more or less. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. While a broad. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. It is certainly worth doing. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. as with Emerson or Rilke. (1886–1961).
and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). . Among these figures. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803).” However. in fact. These Swedenborg saw. One can. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). Diverse as this list is in certain respects. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. come to fruition in literary form. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. and became. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. a Don Juanesque figure. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. for that matter. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. Eliot. he experienced a spiritual illumination. in 1914. in vision. also a tactile visionary. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. Milosz’s poetry. Kabbalah. Then.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. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. create a kind of lineage of such figures. hell. and perhaps remains. and. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. Swedenborg was. William Blake (1757–1827). and the dwelling places of spirits. who as we will recall in his latter years tried to reunite the bythen separated fields of the humanities and the sciences with his works on plants and color. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. theosophy. of heaven. which are what concern us here. Not so Milosz. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. and Western esotericism in general. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. as he saw it. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. and both wrote in dry. Goethe. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. S. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature.
[The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. But the poet. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity.” which. have received and already know. the passionate pursuit of the Real.]”7 . at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. / Les autres. The canticle continues: “A ceux.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. At this juncture. de science et d’amour. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. to join up with ancient teachings. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. astronomy.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. qui. as the organizer of archetypes. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. / Others.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). from the cosmos. that he anticipated a new poetry. knowledge and love. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems.” telling us that “poetry. crown of human knowledge.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. Cartographers of consciousness. and like Blake. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. ayant demandé. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. [For those who. but indeed. on 14 December 1914. n’entendront rien à ces choses. and also prehistory and archaic history. seems bound. the observer looks outward. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 91 Here it may be useful to remark on the kind of new science we see emerging in these writers. on reçu et savent déjà. thieves of joy and pain. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. and in particular. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. seems called upon. and especially the figures we are discussing here. through a new metaphysics. to awakening it in his reader.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. having asked. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. will understand nothing of these things. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. and especially in Milosz.”6 Thus he addresses his writings not to the present age but to the future reader who will experience this new poetry and synthesis of all the disciplines. “setting out from proven scientific foundations.
etc. In fact. light.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. “meditation on the origin of language. he continues. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. earth. to the initiate. this “situated place. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. not like “Patmos. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. ni les fils. sun. addressed to the latter.” We think that the sensible world is situated. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. 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. eau. those who are not affirmers.]”9 In other words.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. 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.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. salt. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place.”8 This gnostic canticle is.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. ténèbres. soleil. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. from Pythagoras to Plato. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. sel. of course. terre. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil.” 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]. blood. but negators.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. have received. But characteristically. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . “their substance is nameless. but it is not so. sang.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. but truly fathers of sensible objects. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. water.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. and already know. nor sons. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. / For these names are neither brothers.” writing that to understand the origin of language. as well as the names of metals.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. lumière.” Indeed. but living. darkness.
Milosz tells us again. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. Here. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. and the gold of celestial memory.]”13 As we might recall. 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. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. he implicates us in the poem. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. he calls us to the celestial gold.” Simply that. muet comme le plomb. of blessing and of desolation. a revelation. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. . the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account.” There is the earthly gold.” “De la magie des mots que j’assemble ici / L’or du mond sensible tire sa secrète valeur [From the magic of the words I gather here / The sensible world’s gold draws its secret value. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. and only describes what he has seen.” This distinction between truth and lie. . [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. At such points. of the primal .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . when Milosz addresses us directly. for as he told us before. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. . of love and of wrath. . / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. 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. is the “key to the world of light. And so it is here. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. mute as lead. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word).” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. Adam. he tells us. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. that is.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. or in Milosz’s words. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. Milosz exultantly writes. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes.
we find a spiritual corporeality. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it.” “the world of profound. Milosz muses on his early poetry.]”16 See. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. hideux. 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. In the concluding lines of the canticle.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity.” an “eternity of horror. Milosz writes. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and.” “immense. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . hideous. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. le seul situé. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. / played with me as a father with his child. and looked behind him.]” Then one day. of light and darkness. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. different. but “great trials of negation. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. in the visionary writings of Böhme. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. “the Father of Ancients. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”.” those “lands of nocturnal din. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. [I am always in the same place.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. this immense. the only one situated. in theosophic tradition.”15 Here we find.94 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E powers at work in the constant manifestation of existence. and is the province of those who speak pure language.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. wise.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. of those who speak pure language.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. / étant dans le lieu même. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. / being in place itself. innocent. and a kind of corporeality of language. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass.” We might recall that the mirror. différent. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. for that matter. and this is the “solar egg. Milosz tells us. Thus. Luciferic brain]. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills.” and “marrow of iniquity.” selfknowing. delirious. rather. chaste archetypes. not light and serenity of recognition. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region.
In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. by the grace of inner vision. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans.” replies Beatrix.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 95 remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. le signe! [seven times for the past. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. je te touche le front. [Dear child. and clothed with the sun.” is unquestionably alchemical. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. [1775–1802]). between the lightworld and the darkworld. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. and for our three days to come. and his Hymns to the Night. et pour nos trois jours à venir. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. tender metal partners in marriage. let us make the sign. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. is especially of interest to us here. Qu’ils sont beaux. you speak the truth. tendres métaux époux. innocents! [The parents sleep there. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone.]” . space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. trois vois—le signe.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. as though the various elements of his mind were projected outward into a kind of initiatic psychodrama of the kind one also sees in ancient Hermetism or the Mysteries. Beatrix. This poem. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. again three times.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. I touch your brow. Thus the canticle.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. to “tender metal partners in marriage. at its end. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. “Master. but refers to an inner alchemy. and since we have now known one another seven years. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg.
and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. any more than are those of the adept. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. and to its incantory language.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. And in the conclusion of the poem. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. charitée. partaking rather of a heightened. charity. woman. The adept watches.” sinks to the depths. Beatrice. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. but the adept replies. “I believe it is. and black. [My chains of constellations are broken. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. and “Lumière de l’or. He opens his eyes and is reborn. “I see only one. The woman in the poem. is reborn!” Thus once again. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. The Master forgives me. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. leaden and lachrymal. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes.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. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. he comes back to life. you liberate yourself. [Light of gold. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. tu te délivres. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. Beatrix. 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. [It is life liberated. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity.” while the “oil of blind corruption.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. The alchemical .]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. yellow. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. I tell you. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. of course. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human.]”21 It is. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. white and pale blue.
by a metallic red-hot egg. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown.” and that “In the author’s mind. the large cloud vanishes. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. oneself. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. is also to participate in it. 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. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. in other words. then? Undoubtedly. . 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. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. after all. The incantory. in what it reveals.” The line is the fourth verse.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. one senses vast expanses around one.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work.: initiate]. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. by Milosz. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. as though the poet does not exist as an ego.” a “faithful and pious narrative. as unemotional as nature. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. perfectly awake. or rather. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. At the same instant. rests in a horizontal position. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. a light appears.
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. one may even say. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. that.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. scientifically. referring to the reader as “my son. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. we must bow down. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. moving up a little. He insists that in order to understand. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. at this point. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. And authentic literature. thereafter. its brutal mass wars. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal.23 There is still more. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. 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. its secular hedonism and materialism. he is among the most erudite of poets. on which it alights like a crown. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. just as he ignores and despises that world. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. yet his erudition. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. and in this there is a kind of reversal. becomes rounder. Milosz . stands still. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. meaning the archetypal realm. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. because it springs from this archetypal reality. Without question.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. Such experience is of the truly situated. It is perhaps useful. though including many great poets.
but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. sought in them peace of spirit. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. alias René Descartes.” 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. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. Claude de Saint Martin. Swedenborg. passing through the Pre-Socratics.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. Martinez de Pasqually. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history.”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. [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.” and . We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. the mystical eighteenth century. Eugène Ledrain. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe.” 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.” Milosz continued. the School of Alexandria. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. 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.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 99 wrote in a letter that he would like to lecture on a subject he knew thoroughly: “hermetic metaphysics and doctrines. Plato. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. from Egypt up to today. Swedenborg.
. Le Forestier. . inside the books of life and of knowledge. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. 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.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. and Savoy.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. Under the heading “Hiram. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. Here.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. and art. Milosz held.” which are far more extensive than anything T. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. as early as 1919.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. Eliot. wrote for his poetry. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. 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. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. S. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. for instance.” in fact. 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 . the visionary poet. 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. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. in 1938. King of the unified world. it is not books that we are waiting for.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. if we may coin a word. King of the Unified World. the universal regent of faith. my son. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. in short. Joseph de Maistre. In his “Poem of the Arcana. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. R. words. the books open themselves to him. science. and books. Hiram. Germany. . we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. and the true poet.
Religion and science. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. especially the dream of a world utopia. like spirit and matter. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. “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. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. relatively not distant. He writes that “Today. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. as we have seen.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. aspire to holy unification.” 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.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church.”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. Indeed. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one.’ announce their impending appearance. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . alias René Descartes. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. who announced a coming millennium.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. he brings in the theme that. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world.” Here.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism.”32 Here. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. like all the continents and all the states of this world.
whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. religious. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. being the Christ-figure.” And in his little esoteric group. of political. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. Our group will have no more than twelve members.102 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E from antiquity through such figures as John Scotus Eriugena and Jane Leade to modern authors including Vladimir Solovyov and Nicholas Berdyaev. and scientific fusion. author of The Magus. sought the widest possible range.”39 These dreams of universality. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. the other members being his apostles.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. among them its ritual dress. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). I am the enemy of exteriorization. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. In his work. For us. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. the sciences. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. for instance. . however.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. of course. The Master alone will wear a red cap. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. with a white collar. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. Milosz wrote. and the arts via religion. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk.”38 Such a group. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. in his work as in his private life. And there are numerous other such examples. de Lubicz. moral or social. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). in his letter to James Chauvet. but explicitly Christian. as we have seen. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. and that he deliberately. the “science of the divine. not to say grandiosity.
’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. astrology.’s life and interests. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. Here. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. Indeed. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. D. D. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). including such authors as William Butler Yeats.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. magic. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. but also for the universality of his aims. 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.’s poetry. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. Although we here will take our leave of them. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. Charles Williams. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. and essays. However. Indeed. a relatively obscure figure. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. which outlines the intertwining of H. novels. and Milosz. D. psychic insights or visions. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. D.. Lewis. today. D. little studied in academe. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. H. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. C. Rosicrucianism. through his writing. D. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. Like Prospero in his final speech. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. but toward the future. the poet H. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. numerology. we . That H. In these efforts. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. the Tarot. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. and a new golden age. of course. S. and Kathleen Raine. D. not toward the present. There are. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H.
She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. D.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. D. mind. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). however. “The Thistle and the Serpent. D. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. like H.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.”41 Although the major works by H. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. was fascinated by numerology.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement.. D. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. as many critics have observed.’s early. In Esoteric Origins. But when we begin to look at H. D. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. D. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. and on the other Margaret Fuller. D. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands.. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. astrology. In his introduction to H. We should begin. save that in H.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. overmind.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. by recognizing that H.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. a cap of consciousness . underwent “a severe psychic breakdown.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. D. D. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness.’s life it is repeated a number of times. H. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. Likewise. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. Margaret Fuller. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. For it seems clear from her poetry. D. explicitly esoteric book. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. Notes is a very unusual work. D. for H.
with the gulls and the sky and the earth. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses.’s work has feminist implications. one must.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. 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.’s expectation of a few in the coming generation with the secret of the overmind reminds us of Milosz’s expectation of a coming initiate for whom his work is intended. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. and third is the awakening into the overmind. is a gnostic with a small g. a musician. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. D.42 H. perceive separately. second is the life of the intellect.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. almost like two lenses. I visualise it just as well. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. That overmind seems a cap. The two work separately. indeed. transparent. As we read on through Notes. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . D. She writes that to be a true artist. She places gnosis.”43 H. . yet make one picture. D. which is possible for all. H.” The minds of the lovers unite. Into that over-mind. D. except through the intellect. It is like a closed sea-plant. H. She does write about a “vision of the womb. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. H. as primary to the true artist.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. D. jelly-fish.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. engage in a union of love and intellect. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. like water. Without doubt. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. my forehead. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. . a musician. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. now. contained in a defininte space. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. syncretic . fluid yet with definite body. a nonsectarian. . . D. or anemone. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. or awakening into the overmind. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. 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. affecting a little my eyes . this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. Whatever else we may make of it. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind.
”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. as these entities are “healers. In Notes on Thought and Vision. All-father. spell.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. boasting. over-confidence. D. this. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. .” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra.” “arrogance.” here. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion.106 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gnostic whose primary emphasis is nonsectarian spiritual awakening. too. madness. she holds. E. / born of one mother. of the “alchemist’s secret. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. / jottings of psychic numerical equations.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. unlocked.” H. / companions / of the flame. pitiful reticence. was lost in sea-depth. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. In this respect.” mind “floundered. is a false path. the overmind being above it. She writes “dare. devour.” In the next section.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. D. H.”45 “Amen. D. Here. prayer” for healing. / oneness lost.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found .47 In M.” And the section ends with “illusion.” we “nameless initiates. dare more. D. seek further.” H.”48 All of this suggests that there is . / it unlocks secret doors. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. / here is the alchemist’s key. D. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious.” She writes. reversion of old values.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. . Amen. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. and H. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. D.” “Tribute to the Angels. for instance. helpers / of the One. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. seek.
’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. conditioned to hatch butterflies .’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. . D.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. H.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. this has been proved heretical. artful and curious. / in the light of what went before.” “invoke the true-magic. D. / inventive.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. continues. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. D.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past. too much.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great.” through painting or writing.” whose “province is thought. / lead us back to the one-truth. In a well-known passage.”50 Here H. D.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus.”49 Thus. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. H. little boxes.” “candle and script and bell. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. . “patron of alchemists. this. they are anagrams. D. D. then writes: We have had too much consecration. H. / re-vivify the eternal verity. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. but this. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. she is calling herself to a sacred task. I feel the meaning that words hide. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. The words themselves may resemble boxes. but also those who come after her. devoid of life.’s invocation of Hermes. too little affirmation. too little: I know. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. The next work in H. cryptograms. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. illuminate what came after. this passage suggests the complexity.” . symbols of Psyche reborn.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path.
the shattered glass of the past. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. reinvoked in a new form. D. D.52 These lines reveal many layers. recreated by the poet. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. the conditions under which. we saw the tree flowering. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . H. like a ghost.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. John. the poet must “melt down and integrate. was writing these poems. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. so too can the poet be. how is it you come so near. H. after all. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. indivisible Spirit. H. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. we entered a house through a wall. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. is attempting in her poetry here.” One must “reinvoke. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H.” but re-awakened. D. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). and so too by implication can we be. saw. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. I testify. in an old garden-square. D. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. in the high-altar of a ruined building. it was an ordinary tree. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico.
In H. Hence H. D. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. / it was a sign. D.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. D. In it. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. 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. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. In this context. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . and Trilogy in particular.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. / it was the Angel which redeemed me.’s poetry in general. D. .’s “Tribute to the Angels.’s poetry. . And this experience is gnosis. This experience. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. nothing whatever.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. the divine feminine. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. the next section is very important.’s vision. / the darkness of ignorance. H. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. alluded to. with Saint Michael.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. D. symbol of Hermes. H. D. conveyed through the poetry. / it was the Holy Ghost—. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. and even more overtly.” This experience “was vision. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature).M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. music could do nothing with it. is a gnosis of the word. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. the flowering of the wood. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. it is happening everywhere. / . but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss.
” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. Rather. / who did not forego our heritage” . This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. / out of the cocoon. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. and the thief. as we will see in more detail shortly. D. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. the butterfly. 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. the Bible.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. allied to Mercury also. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. whether it is con- . the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. D.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus.’s Trilogy. And She is “Holy Wisdom. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. D.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. obviously.” H. for H.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. under her “drift of veils. to her astonishment. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. the scribe. in the context of the three poems together. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. D. D. the thief. D. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. Hermes is the patron of the artist. brought into paradise with Christ.” “she carried a book.” And She is also “Psyche.” “Santa Sophia. the writer. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. They are not.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. right into the final poem. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book.. D. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. Sophianic spirituality was in H. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience.” she of the Bona dea. D. was a baptized Moravian.” This refrain. who is also redeemed.” 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. She who has been seen “the world over. and that. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure.’s own heritage. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. and H.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom.
that until 1998. H. D. Eve and Mary. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. D. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. Likewise. To understand this mysticism more fully. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. H. H. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. The Gift.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 111 venient for the reader’s ideology or not. complete with H. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters.” all are interwoven here. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. however. Eliot and W. In her poetry. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. B.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. Hermes and Christ. D. H. of mysticism. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. D. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable.” with the experience of Christ. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. It is not surprising. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. 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. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. I suppose. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its .57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. 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. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. we must turn to The Gift. D. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. What is more. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. as in the original. fear. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word.’s own notes. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. S. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later.
In toto. especially those now housed at Yale University.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. 1909). Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. Rimius. make clear this distinction.”58 About such accusations. 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. though I must confess. in the middle of the eighteenth century. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. Linde. D. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. and he was born in Bethlehem. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. it was in fact in her blood. shaping the way that she intended it to be read.” or Jedediah Weiss. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. 1755). 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. . H. Knapton. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. H. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. D. in her notes. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. 1753). In other words. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. “Old Father Weiss. Rimius’s works. We can see the extent and depth of H.’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. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. Pennsylvania. Robinson.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. was herself a baptized Moravian.” of the “Arcana. D. D. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. D. 1794). For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. Pennsylvania. H. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. . And her personal library gives ample proof that H. cited by H. itself. & P. D. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. her grandmother’s father. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . had done her research. Mysticism. D. D. 1753). in .
into The Gift. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. Mother. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. “you just stumble on it. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. referring to Father. D. conventionally the church. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. D. But The Gift is also an initiatory work in the other sense of the term—it opens up into an initiation into the spiritual mysteries of the Unitas Fratrum as well. Hilda. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. 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. in short. writes. The Moravian Church. but also of the older poet H. and Son. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. to initiate the reader. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. D. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. . an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome.. . The novel. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H.” H.. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson .” She goes on: . it does exist. We were a small community. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. 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. D. respected and highly respectable. there was no hint of this exoticism. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. D. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish.”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.
60 This concept of a word opening a door into the lives of one’s ancestors and into spiritual mysteries is at the very center of The Gift. “The Secret. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. 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. Rather. men play a greater role than women. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. A word opens a door . begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. The word is like a bee-hive. In chapter 5 of The Gift. but Hilda (and along with her. Hilda surmises. I mean. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). D. Hilda’s grandmother. Williams called a primula. the word stops. That is how it is.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. “Christian had left the Secret with me. . a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. later learning it means Island of Wounds). Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . these are the keys. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. . indeed. cut on a wall at Karnak. this is the game I play. . I mean. in some aspects of the story. as some scholars seem to think. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. but there are no bees in it now. Then am I for a moment . And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. Egyptian . 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. and even here in her narrative. But really “live” it. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. These spiritual mysteries are not. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. A word opens a door. that is why it is so quiet. The other bees have gone. it is like that little flower that Mrs. Island of Wonders.” The first is when Mamalie. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven.” she told Hilda. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. . . . considerably more of this theme to unpack. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. But there is more. it is what the novel does for H.
she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. altogether. indeed. Mamalie continues. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. though. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. D.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. but all of them. done in their picture-writing. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. This rapport is historically verifiable. the answer given by the Spirits. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. “like scales running up and down. it was the laughter of the water. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. of wind. kept in a birch-bark case. this laughter that ran over us. Greek.’s. Hebrew. Pyrlaeus. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. is not Europe but North America. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. .65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates.63 In The Gift.” This scroll.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 115 [reportedly] had been destroyed and obliterated by the Inquisition. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes.” “the laughter of leaves.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. of snow swirling. said Mamalie. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. had a name for. though. but this was untrue.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. so that “It was laughing.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. She and her . in particular the Shawnee. According to Mamalie. it is not a confabulation of H. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit.” not just Minne-ha-ha. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. bore the names of Cammerhof.62 Like the Templars. laughing all the time. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. was to decide the future of the whole country . .
. and then. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. having “burnt it up. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. or Wounded Island. In her notes. who was to die at twenty-five. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. called “New Gnadenhütten. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. decoded it and she played it.”69 The two worlds have become one. Mamalie. raining down terror from the skies. At the novel’s conclusion. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. The Gift. Christian Seidel. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. Wunden Eiland. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. 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. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. H.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. We have been shaken out of our ordinary dimension in time and we have crossed the chasm that divides time from time-out-of-time or from what they call eternity. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband.” 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. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. so much so that she never played music again. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. in an even more attenuated form. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. domination. And in a subsequent event.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. And yet in the very final passages. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. In 1755. those hiding in the attic burned alive. D. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. even refers to the American David Williamson. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world.” as “Aryan.
” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. H. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. past and present. one of the original Moravian initiates.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. Indeed. Among major twentiethcentury authors. In her profoundly ambitious works. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England.V. her work suggests that past.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. H. D. Her interest in spiritualism. In her poetry and fiction. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. there. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. .” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. H.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. But above all. H. Likewise. D. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. As we have seen. and out of which all great work is generated. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. H.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. for instance. both poetic and fictional. but as integral to her work. not merely as decorations. D.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. In this context. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. present. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. as well as of timelessness and time. D. the more deeply one looks into her works.’s English present. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. D. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. singing of the Wounds. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. Out of the chaos and random destruction of the bombing of England in her Trilogy and The Gift emerge not only a palimpsest of Moravian past and H.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. and future continually intermingle. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions.
may be Angel or Devil. through her fiction and through her poetry. outlined in entirety. The Lucifer-Lilith. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. parted in the dark. Elizabeth recalls him to her. legendary Provence. Mystery and a portent. D. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. true we had met in sudden frenzy. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. dynastic Egypt. in his pre-Eve manifestation. late Rome. and contemporary London. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. the Light-bringer. to be sure. H. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. through time—specifically. Lilith. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. After his death. as history tells us. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. yes. as Adam.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. but it was only in her later work that we see it. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. meeting and parting. Vale Ave. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. and its implications. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox.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. D. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. early seventeenth-century England. although: I hardly knew my Lord. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. whom we invoke as Lucifer. We cannot conclude without reference to H. has the same root derivation as Seraph. D.71 . but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. H. but at the same time.
but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest.’s lifetime of work.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H.” the holy presences withdraw.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. D. . here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . 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.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. But then “From grotto grove and shrine.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. the Writing. and the Scroll. . But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. Here. taken in toto. / infinity portrayed in simple things.” the mysteries of the holy well. The dead are living still.” 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. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible. D. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. as in poetry. but for our purposes the most important is the foregrounded theme of male-female spiritual alchemy that “may be applied to all men and women. here again “the words laugh.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. that of ‘initiatory fiction’—novels and short stories whose evident purpose is to take the reader along into new and perhaps unfamiliar kinds of consciousness. the “springs gone under the hill.” and again through it “I had the answer. “the Mystery. Her poetry and her prose. Of course. I would like to explore not the art of magic. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. But my .
to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside.” replies Ransom. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin.” says Ransom. an alteration in the Primary World. “The Descent of the Gods. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. J. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. C. S. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. seems reasonable enough in theory. Magic produces. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. Tolkien.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. saying “I have become a bridge. its desire is power in this world.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes.” which might best be translated as “magic. it remains distinct from the other two.” “Sir. 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. “That is why they will work only through a man. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15.120 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. as one might imagine. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. when we turn to actual works. John Ransom.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. they will unmake all Middle Earth. R. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. R. Let us take an example.” “Their naked power. yes. R. domination of things and wills. or Mercury. Lewis. things are not nearly so clear cut. Viritrilbia.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. here.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. S. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. and the descrip- . J. and Charles Williams). Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. invokes the Oyéresu.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter.” But later in the same essay. R. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. and so forth. the “true powers of Heaven. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. “one who by his own will once opened it. or pretends to produce. or Venus. fay or mortal. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. Here. His main character. it is not an art but a technique. C.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra.
and then comes the goddess: “fiery. sticky gums . or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. ready to die. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. They could not bear that it should continue. were it possible. in which none other than the ancient . .”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. unmitigated. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. sharp. 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. They were blinded. 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 . They thought it would burn their bones. here. and the Blue Room. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. . They could not bear that it should end. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. .”80 It is not really possible. until his outraged senses forsook him. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. . to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. outspeeding light: it was Charity . Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. bright and ruthless.” “He would have known sensuously. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. . awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. sweet-scented and full of desire. . where the invocation has its center. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 121 tion of this event is one of the most extraordinary evocations of magical working in literature. . Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. They experience “needle-pointed desires. . In the beginning of the chapter. deafened. brisk merriments. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . scorched. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. ready to kill. calling down the powers. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house.” the narrator tells us. In this chapter. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words.
she sees that clothes are piled inside. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. and the Director (Dr. In other words. one with ordinary people. but he always maintains a link with mundane life even at the heart of the magical working itself (by way of the device of two rooms. in a “secondary world” of fiction.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. Therefore . the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. Anne’s. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. and one with Merlin and Ransom). In so doing. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. though one could easily imagine it so.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. “Obviously it was high time she went in. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. of course. The invocation takes place. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. and by its end. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily.”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 also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. About Williams’s novels. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. 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.” the seventeenth chapter.
] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 123 some may feel depressed or repulsed by the down side of his books and their evocation of the essence of evil. On the other hand. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. I wrote it. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. In effect they are initiations. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. in general. they unveil the power of archetypes and. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. I have put a great deal into it. one is also encountering new realms of existence. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. It was not written for its entertainment value. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. and how therefore the reader is in . and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. not find it very entertaining. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. in fact.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. almost cathartic effect. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. I am afraid. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. Who and what is Lilith. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. to find out what it was about. 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. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. . for instance. and decidedly corrupt ones. . By doing so. [Emphasis added. For that. they reveal forms of necromancy. [Emphasis added. 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. 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. for in the act of reading. and her observations are revealing.
but Fortune was. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. a shabby. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. after all. putting my cards on the table. not surprisingly. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. In the novel’s seventh chapter. the side She turns away from earth. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. I made the astral projection by the usual method. and imagined myself speaking to him. She gave rise to the character Lilith. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. who is Moloch. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. and I seemed to be in a strange room. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. for it is effectual. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. appears clearly in her novels. magicians call it magic.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. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. Fortune’s novel. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. like all of her . Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. untidy. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. that is to say. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. badly lit and ill-tended room. The magic worked. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. It does not matter to me what it is called. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. which is the dark side of the Moon. 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. In some respects. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. 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.
Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. I had passed over into the Unseen. one will recall. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. Taverner. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. Marius. was consummately the logician. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. I was no longer alone. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner.” 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. As a character. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. for. like Taverner. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. “in all things there was a profound difference. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. for I was one with them . Not only were they alive. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. but I shared in their life. a young woman named Ursula . Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). . but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. a fellow named Fouldes. Rhodes. 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. After his entry into the Unseen. at the end of the story. but perhaps most interestingly. Holmes. 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. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. to “enter the Unseen.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. Rhodes. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. . Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. and many others.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion.”85 And so the book concludes. Thus Rhodes. The Secrets of Dr. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr.
and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. The strange. . banked and double-banked. Of the two books. ‘Well. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. suddenly. He was experienced in dealing with such things.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. . The girl he could do nothing for. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons).’ Brangwyn concluded. Then. Frost and Wither are without mercy. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. pure selfishness. . there are also depraved black magicians. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. a bear of a man. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. In That Hideous Strength. and her half-brother. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. cold and merciless.’ ‘Yes. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. an experienced magician. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. breaking the embarrassing silence. ‘That is very much that. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head.’ said Brangwyn. like Astley in The Winged Bull. they were getting it in the neck. But there was nothing he could do for the other two .126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. and.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. . Yet paradoxically. among them men named Frost and Wither. ‘so that’s that. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. they are without morality.’ replied Murchison. and in another moment the room was empty . a change came over the atmosphere of the room. but also logically. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. . but then Murchison.
initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. and thanks to that.90 . to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. powers both good and evil.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. or with the help of an initatory. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. 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. Williams. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. and Fortune. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 127 This is not merely a cliché: in order for the magical drama to go forward. helped by appropriate texts. but that also go beyond seeing into nature.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. . to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). Lewis. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. experience of magic. But Charles Williams and even C. Whether or not a disciple has a master. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. In all of the fiction we are considering here. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. in this kind of fiction. . which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. Taverner. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. 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. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. S. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. There is. either alone. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people.
we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. thoroughly real. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. if we may so put it. we may note that the distinctions drawn by Tolkien between a “secondary” world of artistic creation and the “primary” world of this earth do not hold for magical fiction precisely because magical fiction represents a passage between the matter-of-fact world that we are familiar with. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. in literary form.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. Second. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. active imagination is essential.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. 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. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. In fact. 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. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. Finally. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life.” What conclusions can we draw. since in the fiction we have been discussing. .”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First.” and thus to written works like novels. Third. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings.128 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E I would suggest that the order of these final points be reversed. Indeed. Such a tension corresponds. Williams. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. then. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.
As we have already seen. and that like his contemporary poet. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. but with the publication of this book. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. angelic realm. 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. Still. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. but also in Böhmean theosophy. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. Thus. an important and genuinely original British painter.. 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. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. held in London’s Tate Gallery. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. which is why I have chosen to study them together. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. Theosophic illustrations in particular. and his writings reveal in detail his . where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. 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. transcendent and perhaps. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). higher aspects of nature and humanity. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. Collins was a gifted aphorist. in the sense of Rilke. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. E. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. indirectly or directly. there remain fundamental differences. 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.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 129 The authors we have considered here knew or knew of one another. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art.
and I know nothing. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. of all that which desires to give. to come to fruition.95 In 1965. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. for Collins. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. I know of your existence. Denies the artist. But you exist. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. of his solitary walks in the countryside. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. is imbued always with spiritual significance. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. 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.’ must make intellectual connections individually. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. for he must ‘leap the gaps. denies all who have inward fruit. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. In “Hymn of Life. 1945. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . I long for my race. I long for my kingdom. Our time denies. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. I remember you. we are all exiles. Totnes. the contemplative. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page.” Ordinary life in the natural world. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. But here I wander. the human being.” or again.” 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. and my life with you. A frustration of all that which is growing. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. A winter of the spirit is over all society. [14 January. he writes: O holy ones I long for you.
whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness.97 Works of art. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. and the making of money. For like answers to like and creates actualization . This is the same thing actually. by description. by measurement or analysis.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. . In “Art and Modern Man” he continues to discuss what art is capable of achieving: Art is a realization of what is and not of what appears to be[. in Collins’s view. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. . how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. but only by rapport with those worlds.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 131 who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. rapport. It can only be known by inner nuance. the meaning. the instrument of art helps to sensitise the interior nature and to continually re-sensitise it when it grows stale and dull in the world of mere existence—the world of repetition. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. The value of the artist is not to decorate. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. .” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. awaken this inner rapport in us. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge.] art is therefore an instrument of man’s inner nature and it enables him to manifest in the phenomena of matter the nuance and living quality of his inner life so that his environment is no longer neutral or alien: a rapport is established. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness.
” He continues: We now have the possibility of this hidden unity of man’s inner world at last permeating the sphere of the exterior world and transforming it.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. his inner world.’ In other words. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. religious. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. in a “time of the apocalypse. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. canonical religions and ritual. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. we have communion with it[. and what is more. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. spiritu- . rocks. he writes that This is the time of unveiling.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental.132 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E As our consciousness becomes transformed we become more sensitive to a wider range of nuance and vibration[. the unveiling of the atom. widened. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. ‘Everything that lives is holy. trees. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. We are all apt to fall asleep.98 The work of art. We live. in Collins’s view. canonic language. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. But there is something else that has to be opened. the elements. . living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. of mere desires. and transmuted. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. the opening of man’s inner nature. . in Collins’s view. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. he writes. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. and that is the eye of the heart. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. the answer comes back to us from within them. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. we have no canonic culture of our own. In the past.” In his final remarks. it becomes qualitative. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older.
To gaze at this painting is to . to the left the orb of the sun. like “Angels” (1948). or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). Here the entire image is awash in golden light. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. What we are asked to do in the new age is to understand what the function of art is and to give our support and collaboration to the artist. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. as in many of his visionary paintings. and vibrant color. by patterns on the limbs and torso. too. landscape is transformed as well. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. Often. make it bleed. not afraid to wound the heart. Here. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. Many of these images have a strange. her head bent back and contemplative. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. the figures’ eyes are opened. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. In many of his later paintings. landscape. an active support. dreamlike. in “The Invocation. and the other with the light. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. but that is uplifting and paradisal. hieratic quality. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. the one with the sword. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual.” 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. such as “The Invocation” (1944). and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. a union of figure. 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.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally.
Poems. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. he is like very few other painters. Indeed. In all of these works. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. Meditations. Lost paradise and . and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. by which we make contact with reality through images .. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. as in the works of Milosz and H. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. his drawings. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. In this respect. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. In another book. so that God becomes a table.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. a world between us and it.’ sacred images. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. like an electrical transformer. and poems that illuminate his paintings. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. . he offers through his paintings. in Collins’s view. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. chair. D. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. Collins wrote in this book. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. Here. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. or altar. not least because his work includes not only images. that like Milosz.. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. but central. And it is also clear. . we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. But Collins offers these through visual images. H.134 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sense anew Collins’s expectation of a new era. we then have ‘sacred space. and indeed. Divine Reality. D. but also essays. aphorisms.
Thus our third point: that . and the arts in written form. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. what we find is in fact the via negativa. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. science. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. but rather. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. or way of negation. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. For in our overview of Western esotericism. or way of affirmation. as a means of transmitting knowledge. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. for instance. although they may contain an element of play. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. Strictly speaking. of course. or mere entertainment. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. and awakening gnosis. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. It is. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. as Dionysius himself points out. these are the themes of these great artists. the way of images and forms and transformations. to the conjunction of spirituality. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. First. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. and the via negativa. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions.
’ the divine. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. and so on. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. on the other hand. between the human and natural realms.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object.’ quantifiable knowledge. Rather. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. the cosmos. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. Ideas. plant extracts. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. the divine. D. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. Western esoteric traditions. sometimes called by Böhme the . gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. between humanity and the cosmos. psychology. Here is the essential division between a modern. or Symbols. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. and there is sheer transcendence. and the divine. But in Western esoteric traditions.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. And Western esoteric literature. there is only the division between self and other. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. works only by reference to this third element.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. hidden. In a modern worldview. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. ‘third element. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. chemistry. In modern education. sociology. geology. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. history.
and in returning has written or illustrated a work. In brief. in this worldview. and literary expression. The artist. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. alchemy. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. an artist. often seen as androgynous. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. or Fullness. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. theosophy. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. by definition a ‘seer. but nothing. a divine mathematics. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. is in fact prophetic. for all three of these poets. a theologian. Rosicrucianism. Adam. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. in order to create. Thus the artist. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. and by others the Nothing. and a chemist. The aim of the esoteric . or any of the other major esoteric currents. In all of these traditions. a mythologist.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. This archetypal realm. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. the absolute unity of subject and object. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. and his fall from paradise. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. we find a divine art and a divine science. meaning by that not absence. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. cosmology. For the purpose of such literature is. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. first. biology.
which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. magical. even from a single letter. almost always denoting divinity. In this perspective.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. and Masonic illustrations. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. where it arguably sparked the entire . contains some secret of wisdom. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. pansophic. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. for instance. 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. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. the language of creation itself.’”102 Likewise.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. Hence. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. . language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. a theosopher. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. Rosicrucian. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. theosophic. . author of The Magus. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. which is to say. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. an alchemist. whether a Kabbalist. and notarikon. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. 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. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. or a pansoph. temurah.
. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.’ and this is not necessarily so. 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. theosophy. . certainly it may be the Christian . Futurism. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. Social Realism. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. 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. and especially of written language and of the book. and Masonry. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. influenced much of modern Russian literature.” or the “Book of Revelation. when surveying the various esoteric currents. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. it may be the “Book of Nature.” or the “Book of Life”. a synthetic magical language of unprecedented epistemological power whose ultimate function was to serve as a means of conjuring new life in the future world. following the various currents through Kabbalism. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence.104 Obviously. magic.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. consequently. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. generally speaking . which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity.
It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. 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. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. and indeed even farther back. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. or masters. which indeed still finds them audiences today. much less in Christianity specifically. or nonexistent. 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. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. interrupted. and so on back into antiquity. Given our overview. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. Even in the case of alchemy. or in Buddhism. Indeed. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. and what is more. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. However. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. Hermes. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. and Geber. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. where the tradition . but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. but rather relied upon the written word. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles.140 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Bible or the Jewish Talmud or the Islamic Koran. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. 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. for instance. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. In Hinduism or Buddhism. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. gurus. Islam. 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.
We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. Such evocation is. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. of course. hieratic. These illustrations. By contrast. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. of Abraham Abulafia. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. who. but . particularly the works of Böhme. naturally. One thinks here. Christian theosophic literature. are not simply decorations. That is to say. and in particular at its strange. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. to some future initiate in a far century. In modern parlance. 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. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. for in all cases. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. Somehow.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone.’ or ‘data’. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. I believe. Let us take another example. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. but who rather offered the world only written works. may think of his poetry. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. Indeed. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. V Milosz. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. often strikingly beautiful. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. dreamlike language and imagery. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. have been adorned with copious illustrations. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. whatever one .’ a means of conveying ‘information. Milosz. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. when we look at the writing of Milosz. Such a view of the written word is. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. initiatory. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. in addressing this far-off “son. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 141 focuses a great deal not only on mystical exegesis.
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. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. pansophic. Taken together. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image.106 To explain this phenomenon. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. and over time those seeds can take root. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. so there is no need here to repeat myself. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. which refers to . reaping. that is. tending. it is more immediate and visceral. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. does have an initiatic function—that is. This metaphor—of sowing.” or Wisdom. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. and flower in the reader too. I use the term ahistorical continuity. the dark-world of hell. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. Obviously. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. theosophic. in other words. for instance. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. In this way. represented by a cross. In my view. For instance. by gazing at such an image. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. the lightworld of paradise. grow. Such an illustration. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. through the turbulence of earthly life. What is more. Rather. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. marked also “Sophia. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children.
But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. one might even say impossible. and who have a desire to begin. . Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. Such a reader joins with the author. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. the daily news. or a biology textbook. After all. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. you truly will know its worth. leave untouched the precious Names of God . and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. Perhaps. as I am suggesting. 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. If.’ 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. Naturally. it can reëmerge in another. if you wish to use this little book aright. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. for example. . this function must be a change in consciousness. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. instead. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. and are in earnest. Thus. Here. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 143 the continuation of a specific esoteric paradigm precisely without any direct historical lineage. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition.
and so on for the entire week.” If on the one hand. it walks in its own delusion. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. a prayer for washing and dressing. in his “Warning to the Reader.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. 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. to become a channel for the divine current. and a prayer before sleep. the source from which they emerge. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. he tells us. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. and for when one rises. a prayer for the evening.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. . When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. judgemental consciousness. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. but the “instrument of God. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. this objectifying delusion. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly.”107 Or again. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. not by merely mouthing the words. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. and experience the divine directly. so that consciousness shifts to awareness.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. but.” “Be rightly warned. which it sees as divine.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. and become not its own possession. Then that thing. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. a prayer for one’s daily work.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. a prayer for noon. and second. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. or has knowledge-of. one automatically is caught in delusion.” or objectified realm.
there is no sense of separation between self and other. where.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 145 not even in relation to the divine. or perceiver and what is perceived. or subject and object. then language must reflect this division. divine in its origin. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. of course. For language is in its innermost nature divine. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. conversely. There is simply awareness. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. between the divine and the natural. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. love and wrath. the light and the dark. as are nature and humanity. the self in one sense continues to exist. at the far limit of what we can express in language. 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. the yes and the no. Above. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. we have the point of origin. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. in the archetypal realm there is . language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. in other words. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. in that there remains an observer. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. 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. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. in Western esotericism generally. the origin not only of language. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. Indeed. as we have seen. or the divine eye that sees itself. just as. although there are divisions between archetypes. or divided from the divine. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. but of the cosmos itself. In other words. There emerges a spacious or open quality. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. Here we are.
The massive machine of the modern technological. the divine is perforce unmentionable. and objectified worldview. for after all. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. For Western esotericism. secular. this objectification of literature and literary theory has much to do with why such theoretic discussions are so often unreadable—from a viewpoint within the ambit of Western esotericism. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. suppression. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. which is rife with the language of objectification. transformative. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. or separation into self and other. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. Here we are beginning to discern how Western esotericism in all of its various manifestations or guises is fundamentally different from modern views in its approach to language. secular. in modern literary theory or theories of language. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. in these esoteric traditions. and the participatory. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. During this . and so forth. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. But by the late twentieth century. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. but never owned. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. Undoubtedly. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. nature. Language. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. 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. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. or manifest more indirectly in literature. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. By contrast. and the divine.
which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. profound connections between humanity. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. including elements of the sciences. the Lullian art. troubadours and chivalry. and the divine. of awakening latent. inner territory. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. nature. But to begin to explore this new. L I T E R AT U R E . Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. magic or theosophy. and the arts. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . 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. after all that we have surveyed. To this we now turn. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. As we have seen throughout this study. religion. in theosophic works. scientific or otherwise. and on the other the burgeoning interest in Asian meditation practices—it would not be surprising if one also found the time ripe for a rediscovery of the Western esoteric traditions. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. which is to say. too. If so. but also for society itself. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. psychology. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. Buddhism. in particular. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. A R T. at least for some. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises.
wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. found throughout Western history.”111 Unconscious of creation. In this view. ascends to “that high state where. It may be of use. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. nature. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. he tells us. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. joys. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. E.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. A. as we have seen. Western esoteric traditions have in common a special relationship with the written word that emerges from a very ancient and profound paradigm we find exemplified in works from the Book of Revelation to the alchemical Mutus Liber. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. A. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. to turn to a poet. (George William Russell. The poet’s psyche. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. beyond history. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. 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 . 1867–1935). E. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. not the life of shadows. . and the divine. . here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. A. E. rejoicings. images. To use Plato’s metaphor. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. Naturally. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. and indeed. . of charged and living images once associated with the gods. E. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. as the seers tell us. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. but of reality. But A. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. at this juncture. to write presupposes already having seen. In this esoteric view of literature. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. Indeed. In his book Song and Its Fountains. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. he simply began to murmur line after line. a friend of Yeats.
focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. E. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. and after that images. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. but of the universal spirit he understood little. E. but all was a motion in deep being. the creation of poetry in A. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche.”113 This movement of consciousness A. 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. analyzes the movement of consciousness. “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. was later translated into words. though too often they have not kept faith . There was neither sight nor sound.” Thus. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet A.”115 He understood something of the psyche. Yeats. “I have.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. recognized his limits. A. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. from a descent after an ascent. the poet. gone inward into itself.”116 Still. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. it draws nigh to its own divine root. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. later discussed with W. and song. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being.”117 For this reason. looks upon the poet as a prophet.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound.”114 A far exile from that glory.” he wrote.” he wrote. B. E. E. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. A. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. A. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. E. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. perhaps surprisingly. E. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. A. E. even if unaware of precisely how or why.
. as did the sybils of old. . 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 imbued with this new visionary understanding. 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. the view of literary creation that A. and they wove into drama or fiction. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. they come “trailing clouds of glory. without knowing it. And A. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). or division into self and other. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual.”121 These insights of A. But at times they still receive the oracles. the further we come out of the animal Nature. 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.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. characters they had never met in life. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. Thomas Bromley. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. E. In essence. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. for instance. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. . Throughout our investigations.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature.” The psyche. when it becomes truly self-conscious. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . when we seem most alone.” And there is more. E. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. A. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. In Christian theosophy. E. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. may. in that solitude we may meet multitude. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. E.
and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. and experiences. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. there also is participation in what is observed. One becomes what one sees. and between the models that they represent. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. where. and the world is shot through with light. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. although there is still an observer and what is observed. in the latter case. which later emerge in poetry. E. passive. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. and nearer both to Heaven. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. But nonetheless. and so requires our sympathetic participation. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . or of Captain Ahab. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. for instance. in A. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. Of course. E. We are carried along on the words of the author.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. the poet is more like a receiver. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. For who. and to one another in the Internal. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. as if by happenstance. One experiences great bliss. more powerful. a novel.’s case. E. the book or work has been separated from its writer. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. say. irrespective of time or distance—and A. which no earthly Distance can hinder. like theater. Reading. and we must. in between both author and reader. In this realm. at least temporarily. In the first case. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. symbols. or drama. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. on the other a visionary poet. and taken on a kind of life of its own. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. absorbed completely in a book. Likewise. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. In Bromley’s case. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. fiction. by A. the author also is not directly present. events. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. as if we knew them as neighbors.
in alchemical work. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. 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. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. essays. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. and books.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. habitual self is gone. magic is real. Ordinary. writing. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. one turns away from the painting. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. 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. 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. presumably. . we might reverse the terms. The difference. our authors tell us. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. but eventually puts the book down. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. the visions of the theosophers are real. Of course. Perhaps. 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. existing in a supraphysical dimension. and one enters into the new birth. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. for example. playing for keeps. By contrast. We see this in the Book of Revelation. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. symbolizes eternal conditions. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. drama. fiction. of course. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. and one has entered a new world. And indeed. For when a reader engages in a literary work. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. whereas the esotericist is. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. and in Kabbalistic practice.
lives on. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 153 Yet it may be that the two versions of the game remain essentially similar. But fundamental questions remain. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. R. the Kabbalist. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. so too is the author. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. Ramon Lull. Thomas Bromley. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. in the process of creating a fictional world. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. the literary work. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. gnostics. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. If a primary aim of the alchemist. the Kabbalist. is to attain paradisal immortality. and may even connect profoundly with each other. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. Meister Eckhart. Johannes Tauler. but there is much more to be done. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. their works like second nature. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. Secret Societies. John Pordage. Nicholas . R. Jacob Böhme. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. the alchemist. or Kabbalists—by self-election. Abraham Abulafia. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. the gnostic. Jane Leade. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. but what came into existence through him. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. fiction. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. Yet at the same time. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing.
to in Emerson’s words. but in every case. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. In being. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. And perhaps all forms of Western literature.” It may well be. and consciousness. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. precedes all being. literature. and indeed even God himself. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. moreover. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. taken together. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of 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. 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. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. the author is reaching out. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. esoteric or not. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here.124 The Ungrund. “add it to his own arsenal of power. therefore. 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. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. There are two philosophers whose work is of special value for us in considering the place of the Western esoteric traditions in this larger context: Nicholas Berdyaev (1874–1948) and Nishitani Keiji (1900–1990). for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. for as I have discussed elsewhere. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. Berdyaev tells us.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. in the . to be guided by the author. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund.
to which our categories of thought are not applicable. particularly the arts of literature. As Berdyaev points out. “it is an end of this world.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. “Creative activity. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. of creativity. fictional. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. It is knowledge. or to put it another way. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. issues from existential eternity.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. the artist. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. and its expression in human creativity. and therefore of division. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. Nishitani Keiji.” and “is the beginning of a different world. the artist. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic.” he writes. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. a different sort of knowledge. and especially on the . or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. 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. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. 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.
in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon.” an “absolute openness. This intensifies our narcissism. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. it is not something we are free to do as we please . and us from them. While this is our own act. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. “an equality in love. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. . . self-identically. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. that is. The force of destiny is at work here. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. In Nishitani’s work. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. or perhaps better still. for faced with nihility. what is the same thing. self-centered consciousness. is beyond definition. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . one retreats into self even further. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. . the choices of the will. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. Out of this transcendence alone.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata.” Authentic freedom is. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. egoistic mode of being. . there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. What .”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . or rather in unison. in other words. and indeed. . or “true emptiness. As rational or personal beings.”128 True emptiness. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. This is the field of shunyata. As we have seen throughout this study. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. or the emptiness of all things. emerges authentic freedom. . Nishitani. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. Nishitani affirms. and has the effect not of separating. of course.
take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. seen as a whole. including paintings. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. a calling toward what we are meant to be. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. But in any case. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. as the sense of self and other diminishes. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. write and are written. so Western esotericism suggests. Paradoxically. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. anything that can be read or written.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. political. joined together with one another. We read and are read. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. . in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. or even linguistic construction.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 157 appears to be other—the cosmos and the divine—turns out in this process of revealing the fundamental self-other unity to be in fact indivisible from our inner nature. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. language is indeed divine. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. with nature. for all their diversity. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. The Western esoteric traditions. It can lead us. have at their center this mystery of the word. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social.
mostly by North American scholars. ibid. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. See Hanegraaff.aseweb. a Dutch scholar.esoteric. See Arthur Versluis. For an overview of Western esotericism. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. ed. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. see Antoine Faivre.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. The State University of New York Press series of books in Western esotericism edited by David Applebaum also represents an important contribution to this field. 1994).org. 4. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1992).edu ] for articles. Faivre. the official Web site of the ASE.esoteric.msu.. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. See Steven Katz. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. 5. much of it in French.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. including Wouter Hanegraaff. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. 3. 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.msu. 159 . See also the journal Esoterica [www. in this field. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. See www. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism.edu. 2.
pp.. p. Peers.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. 2. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. p. 10. Nag Hammadi Library. Ramon Lull. 1999). 83 ff. 12. 1863). Translation is mine. 248. 1973). pp. See Versluis. 1991). p. p. 111. Paul. 180. E. 307. p. 1974). see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. See Gershom Scholem. 151.. 140. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. in Arthur Versluis. whether they know it or not. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Paragon House. pp. 3. See Charbonneau. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. 145. 11. 14. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. 2. 5. 1965). See Versluis. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 8. 1975). See Arthur Versluis. trs. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 9. 4. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 5. p. 3. Paul: Grail. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. 18 ff. 2000). Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 2000). 6. 51–89. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. . (London: Sheldon. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. p. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. See Faivre. 219–233. 4.. Myths. See Frederick Goldin. see also Scholem.. Paul: Grail. pp. 2000). 13. op. 223. Jean La Fontaine. See. Ibid. eds. Sophia. cit. CHAPTER ONE 1. 10–15. Dreams. 7. Mircea Eliade. pp. Gnosis and Literature (St. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. 14–21. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. pp. 97. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. 37 ff. p. pp. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France.. Victor Sogen Hori. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. John Pordage. pp. ed. Paul: Paragon House. 1986). Nag Hammadi Library. p. 309. 1978). CHAPTER TWO 1. 1992). See ibid. 1996). 76–106. pp..
. See J. Ibid. See Moshe Idel. p. p. trs.76. p.. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. Gershom Scholem. IV . I. 24. Tristan. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. 21.75. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 26. 1961). II. 57.331. See Pico della Mirandola. I.325. Ibid. Doctor Illuminatus. 1988). 25. 27. 1969). Cassirer. ed. 1986). Ibid. Cassirer. ed. 29.351. See Verman. Origins. Ibid. p. See Verman. Ibid. Opera omnia. for instance. p.205b–206a. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. See A. 7.. 20.. 19. cit.. 31. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel.C. 1779).205b. Bonner. 61. 8. Vasoli. 10. 30. 250. 11. Origins. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. op. 278. 246. Ibid. p. Dan. 9. I. Ibid. op.. 15. Ibid. p.. . p. Ibid. Origins. M. p. 52.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. 1984)... Ibid.. p. see also Moshe Idel. 29. 1985). see also Scholem. 197. 1953) I. 298 ff. See Mark Verman. Ibid. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. II. (Hildesheim: Olms. pp.. 37. p. ed. 1987). I. ed. A. 1965). 1983). 101–102. 28. C. p..71. 270. cit. 1979). (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992). 17. I.. p.80 ff. See. trs. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. 280. p.B. 394.. 49–50.77. 18. Scholem.. 13. 57.. 1964). cit. 14. Ibid. 16. 22. Ibid.312. 34... 38. eds. p. pp. op. and Françoise Secret. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. Zohar IV . 33. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. Simon. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. 51.. ed. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull.. 32. (London: Soncino. Twersky. 35. II. p. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. I. Ibid. Ibid. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. et al. Joseph Blau.. 197. II. 36. 66. 23. 12. p.314. 59.320–323.. See Scholem. See Arthur Edward Waite. in The Zohar. I.
This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. Ibid. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. 40.. Ashmole. 241. See Versluis. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. 37. 251. and others. forthcoming. 1615). 1971).. a musician.O. M.77. Fama. p. II. 48. and even chart them astrologically. 67. 63.. See. Resicrucian Enlightenment. 252. 50. H. p. 59. 55. 255.102–104. See Frances Yates. (Cassel: Wessel. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. 52. Confessio. 47. p. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. Ibid. Theatre of the World. p. I have translated this work of Pordage. 253. p.. C. p. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. 129. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 1966). p. 49. 54. p. Ibid. 58. See Versluis. Frances Yates. 77. der gantzen weiten welt . p. p.D. ed.M. 46. Freemasonry. table of contents.. See.A.. Yates. 22. Ibid. 246. 60. University of Texas at Austin. . 43.. . in a group called the Round Table. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum.P. 56..M. Secret Societies. for text. p. Ashmole.. Ibid. 45. p. From von Welling. 51. The following page references are to Yates. see Donald Dickson. p.. Ibid. . Ibid. See also Marsha Schuchard. p. 57. I. Ibid.A. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. 1998). Ibid. p. cit. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. 1972). Ibid. 62. Fama. 1997). 41. 53.. D. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. 42. 61..162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. a theologian.. 257.. Confessio. (Cassel: Wessel. . ed. Fama. p. and also written an extensive commentary on it.. Hall. 49. a cosmologist. William Huffman. including two physicists. 260. 371. Confessio.. 238. The Alchemy of Art. diss. p. Ibid. p.681. for the reader’s convenience. 1988). 44. Ibid. See Versluis. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation.O. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. 1999). ms.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. p. Fama. Josten. for background. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. See Josten. Confessio. 220. 242. 221. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. I. 1784). op.. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. 1975). Ibid. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. .
p. Brown. A. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. . (London [Philadelphia]: B. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. 240.” 99–134. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. O. ed.. 4. 162–168.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. p. pp.. See James Anderson. 68. 1948). 1952). Religion. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. 3. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. pp. pp. p. 417. p. 1997). 8. 67. cit. 409. Freemasonry. . It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism.. Paul: Grail. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 66. ed. pp. p. Ibid. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. Sloane. pp. 7. 10. Warlick. 253. p. M. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. . “Freemasonry and Esotericism. 654. 2001). changes. 170–171. See Edmond Mazet. citing B. 69. 170–171. 1985). and Margaret Bailey. Ibid. 257–272. 2. 2002). M. p. Mazet. Hugh Trevor-Roper. 110. See Dickson. See George David Henderson. see also Max Ernst. Ibid. On Emerson and Hermeticism. p.. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn.. (New York: Crossroad. the Reformation. 1734). 70.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. pp.. 172–173. Ibid. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). 256. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. 268. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. Ibid. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. pp. p. S. 191. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. See M. p. 65. 6. V de L. regulations . 247–249. CHAPTER THREE 1. 1926). . D. 1935). Ibid. E. Milosz. 66–67. 414. see Versluis. Franklin. 1967). 1992). The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. 11.. Revolution and Freemasonry. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. See also Bernard Fay. See also Schuchard. Charge I. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. op. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. Ibid. 71. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. 1997). and Albert Cherél. Faivre. 1992). 9.. Ibid. 5. 39. H.
For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. 469. 2001). for a translation of Hymns to the Night. 1996). 32. 31. 210–211. see Versluis. p. ed. 22. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. 15. 41. 299–300. 204–205. 157–206. p. p. 23. 174–175.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. pp.’s] perspective. 1989). 1982). Ibid. pp. 26. p. The question. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. 1994). 20. 248. Ibid. see Steven Bullock.. 465. cit. Ibid. Ibid..115.. introduction by Albert Gelpi.. 14. Friedman writes that “From her [H. Ibid. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Scott.. Milosz. p. 34. pp. 25.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. Ibid. 28.. Ibid. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. Ibid. I. Ibid. D. pp. 36. 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.. 21. 19. 37. pp.. I. 277. pp.1 ff.. For the poet of the modernist era. 38.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. 27.. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Ibid.. 1985). 455. 464. D. For a more extensive study. p. 300. op.. 17. 206–207. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Milosz. 182–183. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. 224–225. 33. See Versluis. Milosz. 40. . pp. 178–179. Ibid. 16. trs. . 24. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. pp.. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. Ibid. 303.. Ibid. p.. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala.. pp. op. H. pp. 226–227. Ibid. pp. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Ibid. pp. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. D. Ibid.. See W. pp. 30. 13.. 1981). op. 8–9.. p. Lib.. of course. 39.. Susan Friedman. Ibid. Ibid. 35. 158). hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . 29. 296. Ibid. cit. Milosz. 18. 180–181. p. Ibid. cit. . pp. 48–52.. p. See Versluis. 297–298. 299.
. 169. Ibid. Ibid. D. 284–285. 70. 39. These passages were transcribed by H. 65. Ibid. Ibid. 75. Ibid. 102.. p. 74. pp. 72. 154–155. D. 59. 19.” 1. The Gift. 17–19. p. 33. p. hereafter cited as TG. 21. 64. 70. for documentation. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). 32. pp. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 47. see also. pp. Ibid. 49. Ibid. 156–159. Ibid. p. E... p. Ibid. 20. 24. 21. 1997). Ibid. 1988).. 43.. 225–246. 46. as well as this entire collection of articles. 67. “Notes. H. 35. pp. H. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 20. D. 58. ed.. p. “Tribute to the Angels. 62. Ibid. 2001). Irina Gutkin. 45. 271–272. Ibid. 50–51.. See M. 157. Ibid.. p. 71. Ibid.. Ibid. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. ed. 29. p.. 68.. 55. 53. 1.. 9. 50. p... 57. p. 1989). p.. 44. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. other authors we could consider here. 1998). Ibid. 13. Ibid. See.. and I certainly recommend her article. Ibid. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. Kathleen Raine. “Walls.. 259. There are. 1967). 67. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. Rimius. D. Social Realism” in B. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. 222. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms.” on which see TG.. H. 60.. 18. 23.” 17.. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 168. The Gift. 52.. 61. 50. 56. 223... See H.. of course.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. 48. 69. 51. Rosenthal. H. Kraus. Ibid. Futurism. 165.” pp. 63. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. 66. rpt.. Ibid. See Jane Augustine. 66. 54.. D.. Ibid.” 30–31. “The Walls Do Not Fall. p. 73. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Warlick. Ibid... D. See H. D.
1993). 291.). p.d. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. 94. Ibid. p. 93. The Works of William Blake. Ibid. 40. 77. Ibid. 76. Ibid. 100. p. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. Lewis. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. Poems. 1994). and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. p. Yeats.. p. 87. p. p.. Southey. 320. cit.. 78. S. E. 89. C. hereafter noted as Meditations. 1997). The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. The Magical World of the Inklings. cit. The Secrets of Dr. Faivre. retained his magical regalia in his office. 85.. 102.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927).. Ibid. See Collins.. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. p... Gareth Knight. 82. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. 79. 1990). Meditations. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. 88. Ibid. I. See on this point. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. op. p. Vision. 95. (London: Quaritch. 1814). p. Ibid. op. 83. Faivre.. S. 102. 91. n. 43. Dion Fortune. and Meditations. Ibid. Ibid. ed. p.. Vision. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. 101. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. cit. p. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. Ibid. 90. op. Ibid. pp. 86. 382. 40. 70–71.. 91. 99.. p. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. 112. Dion Fortune. Letters from England (London: Longman. See Antoine Faivre. pp. C. p.. 92. 322. including Fortune’s. See for instance. 95. 3 vols. p. 97.. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. p. so I have decided not to include them here. Gareth Knight. 101. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). p. 10. p. Ibid. 1893).. 124–125. 20–21. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. 84. pp. B. Ellis and W. 1988) p. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. 80. Lewis. 81.. 21. noted hereafter as Vision. .. pp. 323.. 87. 1994) p.). 88. pp. 103. Collins. 239. 98. 96. p. 197. 154. 1994). Collins. 115. 82–83. 104–104.25. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Dion Fortune. Fortune. Ibid. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. 127.
. Ibid. A. 128.” and I. 107. p.. Ibid. 95. 93. Ibid. 74. 1978).. E. 111.. p. p. p. Ibid.1 ff. trs. 108 ff. p. 115.” in B. 127. 225. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. 117. “Warnung an den Leser. 109.31. 121.. 113. Peter Erb. p. 40 and pp. pp.. 103. p. 40. 25 ff. pp. 94. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). pp. See also The Destiny of Man. Socialist Realism. 194 ff. Ibid. 119. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. p.. Versluis. ed. Rosenthal. 63. Futurism. “Vorrede. Christosophia IV . Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 62–63. Ibid. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 112. pp.. 126. Ibid. Ibid. 78. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 1991). Ibid. forthcoming.” 108. 62. 118. I added the colors. See.. II.. 124.. 39.. p. p. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. Christosophia. Ibid. 129. Ibid. p.. for example. 275 ff.1. 110. 116. p. 114. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Nicholas Berdyaev.D. Irina Gutkin.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. 285. pp. 125. Knapp. 170.. I. p.. 1958). Ibid. 130. Ibid. 123. 120. 1957). 122.. IV . 1994). See Versluis. p.. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper.31. Ibid. 199. 105.. See Charles C. Freedom and the Spirit. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Ibid.29–30. . 71 ff.. Ibid. 105. Diss. Toronto: 1948). 106. 1980). See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism.. 106. 1997) p. Nishitani Keiji. p. p.
John. 24. 40 Bible. Thomas. 81 Bruno. initiatory nature of. 57 Beatrice. Abbot. ix. Cecil. Franz von. 47. 96 Berdyaev. 59. 90. 141–142. 140. 24. 45 Chaucer. Jacob.E. 80 Böhme. 93. Elias. Emily. 52. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 137 Boethius. 138 Basilides. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 64. 89. 141 Agrippa. Roger. 75. 17 Blake. 25 Apuleius. 20. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 5. Sir Thomas. Heinrich Cornelius. 142. 31. Henry. 80. 56 Baader. 28–29. 66 Corbin. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 150 Browne. William. 129. 10. 22 Cordovero. 40–41. 68. 55–67. 95. 56 Amor Proximi. 5. 1. 82 Bacon. 148–150 Alchemy. 56 Art. 53. 18. 30. 72 Consciousness. 63 Anderson. 81–82 Descartes. 63. 129–135 Comenius. Moses. Abraham. 5. 1 Collins. 35–43. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 82–83 169 . 4. Tycho. 27–28. Nicholas. 79 Backhouse. 51. 97. Geoffrey. 53. 77 Bromley. James. René. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 81. 147 Buddhism. 28. 78. 154 Book of Life. 102. 97 Cremer. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 99 Dickinson. 152 Brahe. Giordano. Tibetan. 81–82 Dee. 78. 80–82 Astrology. 53 A. 28. 61–62. 2. 68–71. 94. Francis. 42. 75 Chivalry. John. 57. 2 Aurea Catena. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 18 Arnold of Villanova.INDEX Abulafia. William. 148 Barrett. 59 Dante. 96 Dee. Arthur.. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 93. 25 Ashmole. 28. 129. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 143–144. 139. 11 Dury. 76 Buddhism. 94. 14. 46 Christ. 56 Bahir. John. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 154 Dogen. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes].
101–102 Frey. Benjamin. 103. 126. 7–8. 12–15. 7–8 Esotericism. 140 Hippolytus. 129 Kelley. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 8. 29 Hiram. 85 Merkabah mysticism.D. 31 Melville. 82–83 Heidegger. 89. 54. 10–12. Samuel. Carlos. 56. 137 Goethe. 27–28 Gnosticism. Wolfram von... Dion. 127 Frankenberg. 30. Victor Sogen. Albert. Nicholas. 104 Gichtel. 77 Gelpi. Antoine. 80–81 Fortune. 122 Koan. Georg Heinrich. 19–21. Christian. 55 Koran. Robert. 75. 29 Mazet. 2. 50. Irina. 151 Merswin. Johann Georg. 52–54 Kabbalah. 101 Freemasonry. 9 Eliot. 89. Edward. 57 Eleazar of Worms. Johann Wolfgang. 22–24 Initiation. ix. 105. 21. 46–52. 53. 77 Flamel. 97. Ramon. 44. 69 Franklin. Jewish. Gareth. 4. Herman. 56 Fludd. 50. Mircea. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 100 Marcus. T. 18–21. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 112 Friedman. Steven. 25 John. 56 Jerusalem. 65. Margaret. 19. 40 . 21 Heydon. Jewish. 63. 100. 112 Lull. Brian. 76. 95 Hartlib. Jane. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 42. 123–126. Susan.170 INDEX Eckhart. 1. 104. Joseph de. 89. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 84 Lewis. Jean. Ralph Waldo. 5. 2. 139 H. Book of. 35. 140 La Fontaine. 103 Fuller. 76 Maistre. 36–39 Gutkin. 82 Knight.S. Francis. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 109. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 153 Homer. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 2. 120–122. 19 Faivre. 11 Hutton. 84. C. 100 Hirst. 123. Andreas. 78 Gnosis. John. 99 Grail cycle. 57–59. Max. 109 Hermeticism. 102 Ernst. 107.S. 51 Islam. 9. 56 Maier. John Scotus. Abraham von. ix. 68.. 1 Keeble. 153–154 Eriugena. 102 Lee. 79–86. Joseph Edward. 112 Imagination. Johannes. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 22. Désirée. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 127 Loskiel. 25 Hinduism. Michael. 111 Geheime Figuren. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 105 Eliade. 28. Rulman. 19. 46. 89–103 Hermetism. 138 Katz. 103–119 Hardenberg. 104. 88-89. 21–22 Hermetica. 111 Emerson. 72–73 Faust. Edmond. 102 Leade. 43–45. 104. 2. Martin. 5 Hori. 120. 90. 106 Eschenbach. 83. 8–9 Larronde. 26–31. Meister.
94.. 9. 21 Poiret. 108. 120. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 32. 43 Synesius. 18.V ix. Thomas. Christian. 5. 89. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 90. 66 New Age. 58 Numbers. 136 Science and objectification. 50 Schuchard. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. Louis-Claude de. 2 Postel. 46. 105. 115 Pythagoras. 18. Henry. 47–48. John. 148 Radical ecology. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 137. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 26 Tolkien. 40 Milosz. Joseph. 112 Ripley.. 39–40 Solovyov. John. 69. 71–76 Rousseau. 63. Johannes. 152 Richter. 64. 123 Poimandres. 148 Platonic archetypes. 138 Stellatus. 2. William. 114–115 Thenaud. 69. Vladimir. 52 Pansophy. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 140 Tauler. 53. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 5 Minotaur. 56 Moses de Leon. 141 . Emanuel. Rainer Marie. 84 Pordage. 90 Milosz. 4 Shakespeare. 84 Reading. 51. 90 Talmud. 56 Swedenborg. Gershom. 90 Porete. 70. 21. 112–113 Morienus. 74. Gospel of. 154–156 Norton. 110 Southey. J. 14. ix. 103. George. 99. 87–88. 56 Origen. 8 Rosicrucianism. 64 Roberts. sacred. 63 Rici. 56. Sir Walter. Jean. Martinez de. 68. 67–69. 4 Reuchlin. Johann Christoph. 79. 57. 19. 73. 115. Marguerite. 47. 40 Raine. 87–88. 115. 48 Mysticism. René. 76 Parzival. 52 Piers Ploughman. 152 . 105. 108 Rimius. Robert. Samuel. 140 Templars. O. 11 Russian literature. 116 Nature [concept of]. Jean. 52–53 Revelation. Andrew Michael. Marsha Keith. 118 Ramsay. 79. Blaise. 29 Pre-Socratics. 19. Kathleen. 109. Milton. Pierre. 92. 102 Sophia [Wisdom].R. 92. 89–103. 99 Scholem. 2. 116 Self. 36. 99 Pasqually. 17. 103. Gustav. 53 Rilke. 53 Theseus. Book of. Johannes. 5. 75–78 Paracelsus. 26–27 Moravians. 13. 60. 23–26. 14–15. Gillaume. 150. 85. 59. Paulus. 139 Saint Martin. Czeslaw. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 99 Prospero. 119 Raleigh. Bernadette.R. 76 Sufism. 92. 25. 99 Philip.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 113. 46. 99. 32 Plato. 37–38 Pascal. 53 Theosophy. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 148 Seidel. 103 Pyrlaeus. 140 Tao te ching.
64. 110. 103. 106 Washington. 111. 31 Viterbo. ix. 103. 48. 10. Jean-Baptiste. ix. 67–69 Upanishads. David. 10. 89. 75 Yeats. 84 Williams.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. 104. 122–123 Williamson. George. 35–43 Ungrund. 156 Zinzendorf. 82 Troubadours.B. 101 Weishaupt. W. Arthur. 63. 55. Egidio Cardinal. 53 Versluis. M. 86 Welling. Charles. 137. 148 Zosimos. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 79 Willermoz. Adam.E. Hugh. 56 . 10. Frances. 120. Georg von.. Nicholas. 9. 140 Valentinus. 2.. 116 Yates. 112–113 Zohar. 148 Zen Buddhism. 88. 103. 111 Warlick.
In the voluminous Ésotérisme. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. 1998). Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press.org. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. along with its companion book. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. (Graz: Akademische. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. Earlier. 1998). 1956).edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www.esoteric. 1994). 1992).Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. eds. 2 vols.. 1998). Imagination. (Leuven: Peeters. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . 1975). important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. Theosophy. 2000). Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. 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. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. Gnoses.aseweb. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. 1992).msu. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. 2001).
Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. 1994). 2001). Paul: Grail. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1999). . Paul: Grail. Gnosis and Literature (St. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. edited by Brian Keeble. 2002). 2000). Paul: Paragon House. and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. 1996). and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 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. 1996).
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