Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s
P a r a d i s e
Western Esotericism. Art. Literature.
Occultism in literature. Series. I. Albany. recording. BF1411. 90 State Street. magnetic tape. Occultism—History.
For information. Valentine
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. Authur. Suite 700. paper) 1. literature. II. Anne M. Title. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. 2. NY 12207 Production. Occultism in art.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. 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. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. p. electrostatic.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. cm. mechanical. address State University of New York Press. art. Laurie Searl Marketing. photocopying. 3.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine
Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. Rosicrucian. Pansophic. and Masonic Literature
Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. Art. and Consciousness Notes Index
literature. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. D. 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. At the very least.. and consciousness itself.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. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. figures. Milosz. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument.
. Hence. and Cecil Collins. At the suggestion of an early reader. art. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. but the work’s focus remains Western. but as the book took shape. V. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. H. but in keeping with my original impetus. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. In writing this book. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. O. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. C. traditions. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. Lewis. S.
to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O.Acknowledgments
Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. and to Studies in Spirituality. Poems. from Trilogy. 2001).D. V.). Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H.).D. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson.. 1997). Milosz. including the adapted cover illustration.D. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. (Ipswich: Golgonooza. from Trilogy. 1994) and Meditations. de L. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. each of whom helped to make it a better work. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. 1985). Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza.
. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson.
Yet for this to take place. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. mutually
. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. figures. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. literary.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. These are not. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. and perhaps even more critically. artistic. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. however. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. or conveying spiritual experiences. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. provoking. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. the study of mysticism. and one that has ramifications in many directions. even apophatic mysticism.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological.1 Here. are now appearing. religious. and otherwise. and metaphysical or transcendent. In this book. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. but also.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism.
the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. or Hermeticism. magic. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. But the time for such biases is past. left out of literary. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. do have certain characteristics in common. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. or convey spiritual awakening. Rather. In essence. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. Christian theosophy. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. however disparate. however. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. In particular. this must be our primary focus. Yet these traditions. Rosicrucianism. and about how we come to know. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. theosophy. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. Freemasonry. magic. mysticism. astrology. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. of course.2
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exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here.
. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. it is to consider the complex ways that language and image have worked and continue to work in both Western and Eastern traditions in order to generate. and social histories. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. Like the koan. provoke. Not at all. astrology. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. including alchemy. religious. Christian gnosis. Undoubtedly. above all this is a book about knowing. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. Here. examples of it include alchemy. Jewish Kabbalah. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. philosophical. that is what this book is about. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. or gnosis.
In many respects. sects. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. Thus. and there are many treasures to be found there. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. which is often seen either as outdated. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. our time resembles the early Christian era. And underlying these is. when we look at Western societies. For as we will see. we find on the social front. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon.INTRODUCTION
Why? For the first time in several hundred years. what their predecessors are. about reading the stars. nature. To navigate one’s way through these movements. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. Western esotericism is. of course. therefore. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. in my view. the Western esoteric traditions. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. and to alternative forms of spirituality. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. despite their often almost bewildering variety. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism.
. and cults existed side by side. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. At the same time on the religious front. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. proliferating wildly. By looking more closely at the origin. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. and to understand their patterns and meaning. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. when a panoply of religions.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. a vast field.
yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. and will require much elaboration. The mystery of reading is. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. or spiritual knowledge. The word gnosis. When we read a novel. and heaven. also about union. But we can at least begin by considering how reading is largely regarded today as nothing more than the accumulation of information through decoding writing—indeed. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words.’ Unexamined here. in other words. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. when we read the works of an Emerson. but with consciousness itself. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. we enter into another’s world. imaginatively enter into different lives. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. In every experience of literature. why do we travel with
. And when we read a great poem. reading here guides one toward gnosis. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. is much deeper than it might at first appear. By contrast. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. Greek in origin. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. Likewise. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. but can be transmuted. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. refers to spiritual knowledge. If there are great writers. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. and each requires the other. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell.’ that is. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. minerals and stars. What is more. 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.’ itself a metaphor for our time. we feel as someone else feels. so too there are great readers. of course.4
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This theme of reading. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. and ultimately with the divine. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. however. we have developed machines that ‘read. purgatory.
Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. and when we read them. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. 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. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. like so many others. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. and essays. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. What is more.” 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. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now
. Rather. We make connections. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness.INTRODUCTION
Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. drama. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. where we are from. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. not about accumulating more information. and where we are going. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. fiction. 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. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. we understand.
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. people most of all. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. or manipulation. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. from which we believe that we are separate. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two
. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. Those studying the humanities. 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. finally. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. 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. as if catalogic. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. and particularly literature. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. but also the even more primal act of knowing. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life.6
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call “literature” or “literary tradition. it suffuses our language. living divorced from humanity. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. By contrast. nature. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. everything. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. one based not on division but on union. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. 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. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. including people. In this respect. grounded in spirituality. the way we see the world. and everything becomes a matter of techné. most notably Western esoteric traditions. but for connection and union. and the divine. quantitative. indeed. in that to follow such a path means that one has to leave behind modern objectifying preconceptions of how one is separate from nature and the divine.
6 Subsequently. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. 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. works. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. crystals. In Western Europe. And indeed. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. however. alone with an author. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. 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. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. 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. and groups in Western European and North American history. and consciousness. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. Indeed. But the fact remains that there are also figures. and so to maintain clarity. and so forth. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures.
. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. The reader. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. And in North America as well.
W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. so too that choice still exists today. literature. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions.INTRODUCTION
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say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.
I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual
admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an
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emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-
”11 This is. 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. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. then it is a breakthrough not out of. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. From this viewpoint. 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. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned.” Victor Sogen Hori argues that it is mistaken to hold that koans are a means for ascending out of thought and language into a state of pure consciousness. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. but into conventional consciousness . and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in
soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. in his Shobogenzo. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. 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. I believe. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. At one time. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. . Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. through language and image. not beyond it. . then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience.
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. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. By
. as I will propose here. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. as means of initiation. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. Like the koan. frustrating though this may be. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. as in individual daydreams. Rather. I believe. I am arguing that in the West. 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. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. Rather. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. and thus also to the individual. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. What makes Western esotericism different above all. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it.12
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‘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. 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. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. for that matter. This is not to say that the West had or. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher.
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.
For instance. the action by the act of reading or viewing. 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. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. in other words. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to
. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. guide. the images. literary or otherwise. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. 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. This work is circumscribed.INTRODUCTION
its very nature. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. it is not for a general readership. Imagination. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory.12 As a result. Obviously. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. it is for the few. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. For example. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. 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. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image.
2. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you.” The gnostic. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. But there is a third perspective.14
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enter into the work and imaginatively undergo the process of awakening to the hidden realm that he is describing. who enter into a work imaginatively. Sympathetic readers. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. but here a new magical earth is brought
.’ 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. in other words. 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. Initiates.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. Yet if we answer “yes. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. and nothing less. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. to understand them. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. which is what I am proposing here. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. 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. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. graspable solution to a koan. not one’s own. and 3. 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. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1.
but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. What is more. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. in sum. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. but it opens the same possibility up to the reader because the paradisal or magical earth can also be created in the reader who undergoes the same process of awakening. The realm of the imagination. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. is by its very nature one of co-creation. This. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. to the divine power within that creates. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. In other words.INTRODUCTION
into being in him out of the Ungrund. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. This 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.
. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. then. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. but resides in a continuum between the two. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts.
When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. 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. The other kind of writing. And to find these themes. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. This. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. however. death. the Book of Revelation. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. and.1
ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. From relatively early on. and resurrection. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. we must begin in antiquity. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. is profoundly different. Here. what we may call a
. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. needless to say. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word.
Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. By contrast. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. The gnostics. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. legal. that one can easily list them. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. the development of Buddhism. literal. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. In Christianity. multilayered approaches. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. an ahistorical. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. be it scientific. should it be ahistorical. and on the other. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity.18
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historicist emphasis. Of course. we can see how anomalous it is. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. on the other hand. of course. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. and indeed. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. and mythic. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. symbolic. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. so rare—in fact. the Word was not literal but spiritual. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. revelatory emphasis. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. Consider. 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. for instance. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. as throughout world religious traditions. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. or historical. be characterized according to people’s approach to language.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. or technological.
Likewise. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. the seeds of all things. but of communication.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. just
. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. asceticism. however much their literalist opponents think differently. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. true pronunciation. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. but such an approach is not for everyone. and who else was accepted as orthodox. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. For instance. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. Who was rejected as heretical. that is. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. and spiritual illumination. who are worthy of it. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. here it is vertical. In general.ORIGINS
who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. and whose primary emphasis was on morality.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. and communion. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. one is in touch with inconceivable power. 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. chiefly vowels.
The letters. 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. as principles of creation itself. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. thereby making this conflict inevitable. paradoxically conveyed often through
. and we may recall that Dionysius the Areopagite devoted some effort to discussing how the divine may best be symbolized by unexpected and even grotesque images that keep us from mistaking a beautiful image for the thing itself. then. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. are a means to creation’s redemption. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. such images represent divine aspects. 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. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. and macrocosmically. basilisks. as does the creation of images. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. and so forth. 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. through images. inconceivable power would be set loose. 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. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. Letters and numbers.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. so the letters were altered. and so forth. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. but if the letters were properly restored. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. 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. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries.20
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as Greek Christian mysticism drew upon Hebrew or Aramaic terms.
and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. 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. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. tells him. In at least some respects. letter. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. in the first centuries of this era. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries.ORIGINS
the permutations of word. is self-evident. but share elements in common with all three. Poimandres. in symbols and myths. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). “there is communion between soul and soul. “I know what you wish. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. number. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions.” but not like an ordinary sleep. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light.” the being. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. which were also about death and resurrection. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. “for I am with you everywhere.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. of the mysteries tradition. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres.” the “voice of the Light. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. out of which emerges a “holy Word. presented in the form of dialogues.” From the very beginning.” (X. There is no one author of the Hermetica.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism.25). for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence.22b)
. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum.
and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. then. Indeed. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. and there is a witness to the revelation. yet not strictly philosophical either. traditions. mercurial quality to it. Like Hermes himself. they certainly intermingled. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. 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. However. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. and
. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. the mystery traditions. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. Platonism. or direct knowledge of the divine. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation.22
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There is an initiator or revealer. when we survey the Western esoteric 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. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. and Hermetism.
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. always there is a fluid. It is. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. Christian esotericism. For from what we have said. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era.
and only then. . and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. saw and heard these things. and does eat. where John meets. and the auditory part of the vision began. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. off the Greek coast. There are. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. or field of the imagination. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. and behold. . apparently visionary time. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. and one sat on the throne. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. quite well known. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. in the fourth chapter. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. a mesocosm. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. I believe that literature. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. And immediately I was in the spirit. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. once introduced to this sequence. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. and where the earthly past. he sees the twenty-four elders. At one point. a little book sweet as honey. Although the vision has a beginning. and he interacts with them. came the following: “After this I looked. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. a throne was set in heaven. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. and future are visible. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent
. Yet interestingly. an elder tells him to weep not. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. questions. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. 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. Then. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. he is told to eat. Rather. and in the tenth chapter. Above all. in other words. but take place in their own time. mythology. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. However. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. when he eats the book. and behold. of course.ORIGINS
I do not believe this to be true. beginning with the Revelation to John. John. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. when he weeps. present. turned.
which he does. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. 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). of course.12).” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. the very book that we are reading. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. Taken together.24
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Western esotericism. One. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. angels. 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. and are in a sense initiates. and one hundred forty-fours. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era
. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. the Book of Revelation of St. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. of course. The Revelation. and finds it bitter in his belly. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. twelves. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. John is united with its knowledge.” during these the end times. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. found in Judaism. John is given a little book to eat. In the tenth chapter. a gnostic encounter with elders. and by eating the book. we will recall. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. and Hermetism. in other words. there are “other books.13). But for our purposes. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. Additionally. Christian Gnosticism. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. all remind us of the prior traditions. but sweet as honey on his lips. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. becoming symbolically charged. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. And then there is. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. Every aspect of life is altered.9). the way we see the cosmos itself changes. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge.
but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. it is an image. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. words. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. all of which belong to the apocrypha. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. the Ascension of Isaiah. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. a hearer. 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. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. at the mystical tradition. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. At the same time. profoundly symbolic numbers. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. Rather. and of James and of Adam. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. including the two books of Enoch. Of course.ORIGINS
came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. and what is seen. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. at the Kabbalistic tradition. splendid earthly form: but again. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. seen by a seer. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. where an encounter may take place. the fact that there were so many apocalyptic revelations during the beginning of the Christian era underscores the recognition that such revelations are inherent in
. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. the Revelation does not stand alone. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. and what is heard. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. Yet because it became canonical.
more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. 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. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. often in a simple story. Esoteric literature. a constellation of letters and numbers. In other words. without relevance to oneself. and exists more for entertainment. we are drawn toward it. to the transcendent. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. or put better. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside.26
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Christianity itself. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. more electric. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. So it is with the story of Theseus. as wild as the book of Revelation. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. The analogy of electricity. how hieroeidetic a work is. ranging from external to internal.
THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. for although the Revelation is the most well known. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading.’ of participation. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. far more than may at first appear. it is certainly not the only one. And though we risk being burned. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh-
. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. or from exoteric to esoteric. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. to make it one’s own. 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. objectifying it. of being charged. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear.
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
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. words. the first of which had four letters. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. This name was composed of four syllables.30
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sound that in turn manifests others. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. although we refer to them by the same names. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. and the entire name had thirty letters. sacred images. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. 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. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. 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. in the Gospel of Philip.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. and numbers emerge in. we find plays on naming and namelessness.”3 In other words. and reveal transcendence. we become intimate with them. For instance. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. and in religious experiences. which is of a totally different order. As we ‘read’ these images. or aeon.xxxvi). there is earthly marriage. but different aspects of the same way. embody. and its light “never sets. Indeed. not opposite or even complementary ways. or one will
. in dreams. we participate in what they represent. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. VI. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. For to read the metalanguage of the cosmos is truly to read the Book of Life—a figure for the hidden energies or powers that inform life both in the cosmos and in ourselves.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different.
but rather. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. 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.
CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. is. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. a collection of objects from which one remains separate.”4 In other words. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. elusive. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. gnostic paradigms. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. not to arbitrary designations. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. but its inseparable companion. evokes. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. 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. 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. divided consciousness. when one dies. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names.ORIGINS
not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. Here naming refers. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. Rather. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. indeed. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. for the aeon is fullness for him. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities.
. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. characteristic ways of understanding. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. but is free in life and in death. The world has become the aeon. for such a one the world is transparent. The nameless and the named are not divided. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. the unnameable. The cosmos is no longer opaque. not hidden in the darkness and the night.
whether visible or intellectual. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. By contrast. which is the mystery of words and of the book. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. Here. my dear brother. without masters. everyone. letters. A fourth characteristic is imagery. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. of the different properties of beings. Out of the gnoses of numbers. a third characteristic. nor wholly from without. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. More intimately.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. woven together into a
. including Piers Ploughman. On the lowest level. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. . in his own degree. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme.”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. Even more intimately yet. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. to which I have already devoted some study. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. separated from the subject who sees. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. What is more. . and images emerges the fifth characteristic. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. however. They are only the sensible expression. of course. and are visible in major European literary works. on which conventional mathematics is founded.32
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From the gnosis of naming emerges a range of related mysteries. According to rational consciousness. and therein we obtain the pure key. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. which all proceed from the one only essence . but as qualities pregnant with meaning. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external.
images. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. from antiquity to the present. and images. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. letters. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. Egyptian. in one form or another. words. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era.ORIGINS
tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. Jewish and Christian and Greek. By following the courses of Western esotericism. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. Its mysteries of names. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. 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. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. to become it. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. but also to convey it. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. Roman. Christian. numbers. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. 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.
. Greek. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. whether. often do not hold at all. taken together. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. and traditions best express his understanding. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. words.
a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. of course. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. in giving honor to his beloved. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. 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. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions.
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DIVINE SERVICE: C H I VA L R Y A N D T H E T R O U B A D O U R S It is. The troubadour. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. sees her (or him. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements.
Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. never explicitly discussing.36
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Thus there is implicitly a dual quality to much of the writing associated with each of these traditions. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. But when we look at these movements as a whole. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. is no. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C.E. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. that is to say. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. I think. likewise. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. particularly the chivalric tradition. Much more likely that here. or love’s faithful. even surreptitious. 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. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. Instead. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. Of course. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition.
. for example. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine.
the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. both pagan and Christian.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. but there is another source.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
Nonetheless. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. but God may have taken them back. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. He found that a man named Flegetanis. and has a rich reward in heaven. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. occupying a middle ground between these. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. we are told.
. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. In any event. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. then the chivalric life is his one desire. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. those who did not take sides. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. worthy. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. For instance. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. For. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. a hermit. Hearing this. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. that is. there is no need to erase it. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. Naturally. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. and this is the mystery of names. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. whence had come the Grail. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). [as] if their innocence drew them back again. teacher of Eschenbach. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. for the name disappears. and to whom God sends his angel. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. noble angels. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory.
There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. When inevitably she does so. the knight is told by Feirifiz. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. like chivalric literature more generally. remains this-worldly in emphasis. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. and at the end of the tale. The Grail. Saturn to suffering. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. entertaining. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. the spotted knight.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. of course. For instance. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. then naming them one by one in Arabic. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. just as is Western esotericism more generally. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. And at the book’s conclusion. Throughout the tale. we are told to honor women. then their sorrows would end. we will recall.” chiefly Saturn. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli-
. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail.38
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and of how the servants of the Grail fell on their knees before the Grail. Parzival. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. 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. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. He was to ask. and if he asked a Question. Yet this implicit esotericism. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. but also with the changing of the moon. of course.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. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. and that of all the Grail servers. and that is the exalted position of women. in particular. Rather. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t.
This famous passage. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. 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. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. as I have elsewhere shown. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. with the five wounds of Christ. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. When Gawain. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. of course. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. Gawain’s symbol. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. and. like several others in the poem. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. the first is the true knot. but with the five fingers. the five virtues.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. these being liberality. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. First. Yet in the story’s conclusion. marking why Gawain is a fine man. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. in Gawain as in Parzival. part of a tradition that. the number of maidens serving the Grail. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. in the image of the pentangle. And this green marks my second point of observation. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight
. like Grail tales more generally. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses.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. loving kindness. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. is marked with a tiny colored initial. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. he ultimately feels shamed. the poem. At the end of Gawain. and piety. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. Once again. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. courtesy. continence.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
ness and otherworldliness in the service of one’s chivalric duties and of the Grail is the key to chivalric literature more generally.
One does find esoteric themes. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. like the chivalric orders. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis.”] Or again. yet it is also the symbol of new life. pus nons val arditz. to be renewed. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded.40
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symbolize the bewitchments of the world. and the illicit. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. Gawain. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. and renewal. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. yet at the same time. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. not monastic or priestly.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable.” The Friends of God were. / And since talking directly can’t help us. growth. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. Or again.” or “the Green Isle. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the
. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. perhaps cunning can. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. the hidden divine messenger. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. This same duality inheres in the color green. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. green is the color of nature. although a lay group. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères.
an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. but the faculty of imaginal perception.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. we cannot help but note the complex numerical and astrological symbolism with which Dante begins his poem: “Nine times since my birth had the heaven of light returned to the same point in its revolution when first I laid eyes on that glorious Lady. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. of course.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
Grail. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. and exactly nine years later. full of images. poems. Dante ends this strange work. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. Thus Dante’s greatest works. in the ninth hour of the day. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. of course. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. and his commentary. La Vita Nuova. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. Dante sees Beatrice again. calls upon the “book of memory. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. an intervening figure in the tradition. and here. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. as in the Divine Comedy. Boethius. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. and words and ideas into the empyrean. thrice-blessed Lady. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars.” 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. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact
. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. This is. this time wearing a white dress. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. like the great Divine Comedy. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. we end by passing beyond space. with a final vision about which he will not now write. is a visionary poem. 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. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. philosophical. albeit more literary. time. And of course. 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. as does the play that we see here on naming. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. There is. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. In De consolatione. who lived during the fifth century. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding.
including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. here.” with “festes. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. marked east and west by gates of marble. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. Chaucer. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. Here. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. above all. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). Like Dante. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. 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. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. And these are evoked
. yet he went further. 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. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. But all the same. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. daunces” around her. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. instrumentz. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded.42
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depict unfolding gnostic revelation.” “gastly for to see. We see in Chaucer’s tale.” Thus this tale. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. especially of the knight for his lady. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. and of divine service. known as a primary literary figure in English history.” In that “portreiture. bareyne trees olde. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. knarry. Earthy. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes.” and by “kervere of ymages. with an oratory. the theater of art.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. Chaucer was not an esotericist. however. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. caroles.
troubadour. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. (part of his romance Blanquerna). It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art.” are familiar to students of
. At this juncture. like Chaucer. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. In the ninety-ninth chapter.” The Art represents. and this is no accident. In fact. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. literature is not only entertainment. not just a set of correspondences. 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. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. was prolific. and of course his most well-known and influential works. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. given its astonishing scope. Ars brevis.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
through literature. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. These terms. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. The Book of Contemplation. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. and Ars generalis ultima. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. one for each of the 365 days of the year. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). For although Lull. and indeed. 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. bringing together the chivalric. Not surprisingly. but with the advent of rationalism. until he was thirty. (a kind of chivalric code). “knowledge” and “remembrance. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. we are given the meditations of the hermit. The lover answered. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. Lull was himself something of a troubadour.
‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. By means of these letters. ‘Yes. whose influence extended across Europe. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. Lull used more letters. The cosmos represents the divine writing. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. north and south. and writings in themselves. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. and by writings. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. that is. Originally. he condensed his art into nine letters. images. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. but for purposes of clarity. This extraordinary art. rather than my Beloved in the world. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. which he claimed to be a universal system of knowledge that allows one to see into the universal nature of all things and of the Divine. And through presumption.’ They asked him.44
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Sufism. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. However. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. we are also participating in this relationship. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. most of all in the exposition of his art. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. as the readers of Lull’s book. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. all errors are implanted in the world.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean-
. images.” In this falsified knowledge. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. Of course. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. Further. not of figures. and profaning holy things with figures. since my Beloved contains all. and that is the book. and images. west.’”5 The world is a book for those who can read: this is a constant refrain within the Western esoteric traditions from antiquity to the present. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. out of arrogance or presumption. but of those done with the wrong attitude. Here we find a clear condemnation. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. just as the writer is in his book. and writings. invoking evil spirits as good angels.
And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. For this reason. 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. has vast implications. and gluttony. angel. justice.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. and so forth.
. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. whether?. difference. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. which are seen in both traditions as transcendent principles the combination of which can ultimately bring us to and reveal the inner nature of the divine. for instance. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. The Lullian art. Of course his work is unique. 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. “goodness. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. For instance. B—Bonitas. Lull himself combined them using circles.” C signifies “greatness. and numerous other arrangements. trees. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. E—Potestas. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. it includes and transcends logic. B signifies. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. and avarice. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. for example. or that from the Ars brevis. tables. concordance. Hence in many respects. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. depending upon how the letters are combined.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
ings. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. prudence. God. what?. When we consider the prominence of the letter A in numerous esoteric traditions ranging all the way from Buddhist tantrism to Gnosticism to Böhmean Christian theosophy. In the full art. found in the Ars compendiosa. At the same time. triangles. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. I— Veritas. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. 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. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A.
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. of course.or eighteenth-century German.
. Rosicrucianism. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. the words. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. the chivalric. but this is virtually never the case.
BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. 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. troubadour. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. It is. or English gnostic. however. French. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). In these traditions. but what is more. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. intricately woven. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another.46
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We also see this perspective visible in a muted way in chivalric and troubadour literature. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. Chivalry influenced future esotericism by providing a code of conduct that as it became individualized or fed into smaller initiatory groups took on esoteric force even as it lost power as a system of social organization. and Freemasonry. Christian. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. And as literature. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. Rather.
with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. And in fact. and elsewhere in Europe. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. For instance. “The affinity with the language. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. and cosmogony. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. and Kabbalism more generally. dating to the Talmudic period. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim.
. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. for instance.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C.E. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. and thus Kabbalism. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. The book Bahir. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. but also in that they consciously sought to keep this tradition hidden from the general public even while composing copious works that derive from the long tradition of interconnections between literature and religion. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region.8 But for our purposes. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word.9 Yet at the same time. But the Bahir. Castile. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. also may have roots elsewhere. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. number. 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. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. disclosing them only in parabolic language. terminology. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot.” Scholem concludes. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir.
but here takes on the meaning of “com-
. including the human body.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos.” Indeed. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. caught up in the spirit. For example. But in any event. the tonal accents. informing the cultural. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. which comprise a total of 613 letters. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. as a female is fertilized from the male. but another view. supported by some contemporary testimony. for example. and natural realms at once. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. said to symbolize the abdomen. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. 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.11 Of course. It is absolutely clear from this and many other sections of the Zohar that Kabbalistic gnosis is intimately bound up with the mysteries of the word. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition.” (that is. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. spiritual. In section 124.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. 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. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. writing the Names of God) and through this power.48
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The sephirot mysteries in Bahir are intimately related to the mystical meanings of numbers and letters. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments.
” One can easily see.” about which no one.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. 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. . forty. all comprehension and thought. speech. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. all are found in this Name. in the Fountain of Wisdom. not even Moses. made transparent so
. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. we are told. out of it emerges the Names. and yod in turn becomes twenty.” which may or may not itself be an “a. yet when these Names are removed. voice. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life.” 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. Through this kind of multiplication.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth.”17 By investigation. the essence of everything. Here.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
bination. an ¯ “ether. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. from reading this extraordinary work. or aleph. whispering.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. 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. so to say. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. the tenth letter.”18 This. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. utterance. For instance. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt.”14 In other words.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. and 160. . inquiry . eighty. but My Face will not be seen. is allowed to ask questions. action . in this context. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. .” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. corresponding to yod. . In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads.
All of these exist. then. not from this side. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena.’ Only that which lives in any particu-
. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. Medieval Kabbalism. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether.50
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that through them in the eye of imagination we can see the hidden principles and working of the cosmos itself. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. broadly speaking. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. sometimes without. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. including thought. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. but from the other.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. as Scholem remarks. that of hardened or congealed materiality. ’En sof literally means “infinity.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. is not only cosmological. emerges. 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. but also metaphysical.20 For that matter. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. Indeed.
lar thing as language is its essential life.”21 In fact, for the Kabbalists letters have a plastic quality: in forming words, they are forming also the actual divine nature of things, so that to enter into the mysteries of words is to penetrate beyond language as we ordinarily conceive it into the hidden nature of God himself. Here again we have come upon the dual nature of language: there is exoteric language, which is veiling and limited; and there is esoteric language, which is unveiling and virtually unlimited in its ramifications. Particularly in the case of Kabbalistic word and letter combination can we say that esoteric uses of language are virtually unlimited in effect, for Kabbalism has since at least the time of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (c. 1165–1230) and Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (c. 1240–1292) employed techniques of linguistic recombination that in turn, if practiced over a period of time, result in ecstasy and visionary illumination. In the case of R. Eleazar and Abraham Abulafia, the technique entails combining the Tetragrammaton with the letters of the alphabet in order to bring one to a transcendent state of divine knowledge or gnosis. According to Abulafia, this technique, which requires isolation, prolonged practice, and special breathing techniques, “draws down the supernal force in order to unite it with you.”22 Thus esoteric language is not only a guide toward gnosis, it is here the actual means to gnosis. Central to Kabbalism is esoteric language. Isaac of Acre, for instance, distinguished between the mere acquisition of knowledge through ordinary learning and the direct gnosis by the intellect.23 And his predecessor Isaac the Blind used the analogy of a great tree, in which inward and subtle essences of wisdom (hokhmah) exist and move through the tree like sap. We partake of this wisdom, or sap, by “sucking,” which is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge from that gained by ordinary reading; it is a participatory gnosis in which we directly experience the essence-language of creation itself, moving in and through all that is. Here again we have reading and writing that go far beyond what we ordinarily regard them as—here esotericism and literature are totally fused. Such analogies and definitions as that of the tree, or “sucking,” or for that matter of celestial reading and writing, do indeed correspond to those of the ancient Gnostics; and like the ancient Gnostics, the Kabbalists too produced a wild profusion of works expressing variants of a complex and profound cosmology, as well as a metaphysics of absolute transcendence. In Kabbalism, as in ancient Gnosticism, we find the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, to be prominent, and indeed even find the teaching in Kabbalah of the higher and lower Shekhinah, which parallels the teachings of some Gnostic sects regarding a higher and lower Sophia. There are numerous parallels, but this does not mean that there was direct influence. In any event, this profusion of Kabbalistic works and teachings in turn was to have an immense influence on the subsequent history of Western esoteric
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traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of
language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century
each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. or vice versa. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. For Kabbalah. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. much less the possibility of transcendence. In the twentieth century. Such an approach to literature. however unfamiliar to us today. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. after all. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. Indeed. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. But before discussing these implications. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. that ultimately all beings will be saved. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. In the eighteenth century. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. and beauty. which is. ramified throughout religious and literary history. Here. surface is nothing and depth is everything. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights.
. And when we look at Kabbalism. intricacy. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. that is. where one finds literature and religion fused. or vice versa. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own.54
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treatise on Cabala alluded to a Kabbalistic doctrine of universal restoration. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. Spain. literature represents portals into the transcendent. To such approaches. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence.
we cannot help but notice religious references. Indeed. itself also highly literary: the koan. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. So too. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. forces one to wrestle with it alone. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. as the “art of Hermes. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. to work it through. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. However.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry.’ yet not entirely Christian. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. on the other transmitted by way of literature.
. To the first-time observer. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. hence on the one hand religious. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. as we saw earlier. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. like the alchemical expression or riddle. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. not entirely ‘pagan. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
T H E T R A N S F I G U R AT I O N O F E A R T H : A L C H E M I C A L L I T E R AT U R E Undoubtedly among the most enigmatic traditions of the human inheritance. alchemy. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. 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. When we look at European alchemical works. Of course. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory.
either. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. put another way. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature.E. 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. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. All of these authors did write on alchemy. plant. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. 825–932 C. a tradition transmitted through literature. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. at heart.E. Synesius.E. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. 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. alchemical literature. thirteenth century).
.. One places oneself in the line of what is. the vegetable. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical.—latinized as Rhazes). Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. For alchemy extends into many realms. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). in the revelation of paradise. or the animal kingdom. Thus. that is. George Ripley (fifteenth century). For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. Ramon Lull. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. Indeed. Olympiodoros. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. and Morienus of the seventh century C. even if it does not entirely belong to these. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). as has historical placement. After all. or al-Rhazi (ca. and the spiritualizing of the body. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. the embodying of spirit. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. even if its work resembles these in some respects. Roger Bacon. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. be they in the mineral.56
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with constant reference to the accumulated prior works in relation to which any given work is seen.. and takes place by way of fire.
and thou knowest all.” In other words. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. and are to come. Here. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). seek not many utensils for thy labor. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. and author Michael Maier. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. . Maier. of course. 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.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. Indeed. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). which Vulcan cast into the sea. and gave it to us by mighty toil. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. were. it is enough. Thomas Norton.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. bracketed by mythological references. His title. “The Golden Tripod. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. .” that is.
. composer. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. in his preface. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . physician. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. If thou knowest the substance and the method.
The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. the Sun. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. a half-naked man with a scythe. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. over a fire. and to the queen’s left. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe.” With its spiritual essence. including two archers shooting at targets. that which is visible. to become impalpable . and the text tells us how at the end of the world.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. despite its elliptical means of expression. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. is at once literary and practical. while around him are various figures. . before him a burning barrel. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. to be invisible. as well as an angel blowing a horn. while the Moon. .” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. and a man sowing seeds. in the background a dead tree stump. and this Mars has done.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan.” pleads the case of her husband. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. and that which is palpable.58
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Yet the treatise itself. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. a king and a queen. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. being bereft of images
. Shortly thereafter. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. and it is clear from what Valentinus himself writes that he devoted himself intensely to “the study of the powers and virtues which God has laid into metals and minerals: and the more I searched the more I found. on the far left side a single candle. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. Here you see the perfection of our Art. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. and proved of the greatest efficacy. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. the queen a three-flowered plant. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. the king bearing a staff. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools.
Such.”35 And indeed. three of rabusenum. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. and two of willow charcoal. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. two of living sulphur. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. and tortured for four years. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. 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. 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. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. so as not to lose legibility over time.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. of course.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. we are told. and prepared in about four days. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
and much more inclined to tell stories. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. strong and pure. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. In recent times.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. a man named Herbert. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. two of orange arsenic. Dalton said he was happy to die. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. his last testament. and so was let go. of
. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. Cremer in this.
and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. its subtle essence. not all evestra are benefic. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. but also through the power of the imagination. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images.60
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course. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. air. literary allusions. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. one may know the inner nature of anything. then. Through these evestra. But in any event. allegories. poems.’ then. for they occupy different dimensions within it. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. ethereal counterparts. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. to carry it within. vegetable. We may ‘read. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. not only by looking at words on a page. To say. And of course. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. Confronted with such a colloquy. 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. epigrams. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi-
. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. According to Paracelsus. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. but is joined with them in the imagination. fire. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. one branch of alchemy. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. water. and animal realms. Imagination governs the development of things. Spagyric medicine. not merely from the outside and as other. Of course.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. Paracelsus tells us.
There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. 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. as a spirit. . fire. may be interpreted in both ways at once. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. and so forth. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. and mist.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. like Valentinus’s. a matter of
nary. like Cremer’s testament. It is as though here alchemy. This is the true Ground of Nature . . even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. the true medicine and theology. The term Machina mundi is particularly interesting here because it is so far from describing the worldview of Amor Proximi as to be its polar opposite. it is entirely real. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. indeed. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. The terms used in its title—oil. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. more real than what we see in the physical. but that in this particular worldview. Of course. including Romans 1. .” and to a host of Biblical references. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. II Chronicles 13:5. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry.74). moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. while others. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. . a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. emphasize their recipe quality.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. wine. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . 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. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. Genesis 1:27. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. but here are clearly spiritualized. philosophy. these two poles became further separated. light air.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life.
Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. and a true Medicus. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. Oil. spiritual dimensions of the work. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. but the Sun light. Oil. . and when either one is absent. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit.80).83). Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. the author writes “That the earth is dark. Yet alchemy. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. for instance. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. . as a kind of counterpoint. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy.93). Thus. However. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. or Water is. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. these terms have an alchemical provenance. of existence. the depths.77). And so we find the three One. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. just as we find for instance Islamic
.83). easily translates into a dominant religion. but here. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. Fire. Salt. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. we are told.105). in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. and one three . inward dimension. Water. that is the mystery wherein all lies. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. like Hermeticism. is a perspective that is all depth. In fact. a true Astrologus.62
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measurement and quantity leading to technology. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. in harmony” (II. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. nor whence they emerge (II. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II.
” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. and Kabbalistic themes. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. including “Chymie” or alchemy. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. on salt. Christian theosophy. Pordage’s work. from spiritual to physical. This is not
. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. of the second. astrological. not merely a pastiche. What makes this work most remarkable is the unity of this synthesis: it is clear that von Welling had in mind an all-encompassing worldview emerging from a deep union of these traditions. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. and gnostic metaphysics. on mercury. on sulfur. astrology. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. and of the third. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). Indeed. of course. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). 1675). The implication. Kabbalah. But such rumors aside. 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. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. and he and his spiritual circle. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. beginning with the organization of the first section. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
. . tables. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical
. and calcify it by hand. in other words. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named.” Further. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. of Pisa. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726).”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. diagrams. and “Manna Coeleste.64
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to say that all of his sources were entirely accurate—for instance. Christian scripture. das himmlische Manna genannt. diagrams. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material.” and so forth. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. “Alchimische Fragen. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. then in a Liquorem . charts. Thus he writes regarding the nature and use of earthly mercury that the “I (Mercury) out of L (the Sun) is of a wholly different nature than that out of . and in this regard he succeeded. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. he elided many details. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy.” “Cherubim. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. but might well also be called pansophic. 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. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. For instance. Here. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. to properly prepare mercury.” “Thronen. meaning the transcendent Godhead. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. and instructions. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. . some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. with a plethora of astrological symbols. At the same time. including D. sulfur. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. or mercury. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. Indeed. . and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet.
however far-reaching. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well.’ in the broadest possible sense. or grammars. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images
.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. but even more in the perfection of humanity. Alchemy. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. air. 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. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. and images. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. In this sense. and to ‘write. fire. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. vegetable. recipes. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. both seek to perfect this creativity. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. water. so that everything—mineral. we can easily see. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. Here. including not only chemicals and equipment. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. Thus we may well say that. animal. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
king. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. and that we will shortly examine further. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. letters. 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. Alchemy. broadly seen. as well as with what these represent. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. like a painting. One must learn both to ‘read. for example. of course.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. alchemy is like learning to use a language. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. In some respects. is a relatively modern phenomenon. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. a natural homology between alchemy and art. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself.’ There is. of course. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things.
that alchemy is chiefly psychological. like Jung. and the divine. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. Indeed. humanity. and science are one. humanity. It is true that more recently theorists. Rather. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader.’ in the case of alchemy. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. 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. nature. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. But in alchemical works. Contemporary views of literature. and the restoration of the right
. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. were one to decipher what x and y mean. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. However. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. I would use the word decoding. no doubt of that. In Christian terms. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. both of physics and of literary criticism.66
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and the complex kinds of linguistic riddles visible in alchemical works. in the manner of a mathematical equation. The ‘solution. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. This is by no means to suggest. one would have the solution. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. extends into a range of realms at once. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. 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. In alchemy. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. Here in alchemy. 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. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. between subject and object. literature. and the divine in ever more profound ways. Oral commentary by a master is important. religion. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. like those of science. between the observer and that which is observed.
it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. and against the divine. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. R O S I C R U C I A N . nineteenth. between the sciences and the
. So it is with alchemy. As we have seen. Rosicrucianism. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives.
THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. divided against the world. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. in particular Christian theosophy. in the modern era. In the study of Western esotericism. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. Literature forms a means toward this gradual process because it is in literature that we can come to identify with and understand in more profound ways all that surrounds us. PA N S O P H I C . esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. We should also keep in mind the growing split. pansophy. but in relation to a host of other currents. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. and twentieth centuries. especially during the eighteenth. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. against ourselves. 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. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. Indeed. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. and Freemasonry. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
to name only a few of the most luminary. But Western esotericism. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. chemistry. the discovery of more complex technology. as well as De Signatura
. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. and drawing from his visionary experiences. nor is that our aim. medicine and astrology. the emergence of biology. physical chemistry from metaphysics. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. in the arts. in Western esotericism we find. and geology. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. It is true that. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. However. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. and Franz von Baader. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. archaeology. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. Rather. practiced medicine and astrology. the fields of alchemy. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. explored theology and metaphysics. including. this sense of unity dissolved. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. Indeed.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd.68
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humanities. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. a city on the eastern side of Germany. John Pordage. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. or Aurora. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. quite the opposite movement. rather than seeking to separate. near Poland. comparative and syncretic. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. at least in the secular world. wrote literary works. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. illustration and literature. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. say. and in religion. The Copernican revolution. in the sciences. our approach being thematic. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum.
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
travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind.. The Rosicrucians’ goal. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him-
. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. Hermeticism. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. of Christian theosophy as well. generally speaking. R. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. Indeed.72
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Fama Fraternitatis (1614) and the Confessio Fraternitatis (1615). even if at times such orders did exist. translates the “book M. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. like us. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. are to be collected by the wise.. 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. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism.” however. “or a perfect method of all arts. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. But in any event. And of course this brief work. and this is the “book M. according to the Fama.” C. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. in the Orient. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. and later. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis.” into good Latin from Arabic. R.”46 When C. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. C. caused a great stir in Europe. R. like its complement the Confessio. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. For from the very beginning of the Fama.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. R. if not universalism. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. returns eventually to Germany. and why he is called Microcosmos. they could collect Librum Naturae. Not coincidentally.” These “Books of Nature.
Among other questions. The description is often hard to follow. sciences. that you could so read in one only book.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. wish. . whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. is. . and hidden to the wicked world. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. by four persons only. and of reading the mysterious book of books. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . and come into our brotherhood. . every one with their several figures and sentences. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51
. are now. they also made the first part of the book M.” the Fama continues. or are able to believe or utter.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
self.” There is more. belongs to the mind and imagination. undestroyed. with a large dictionary . and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. than that which is the head and sum. first. “After this manner. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. a century old. like the book. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. recur as well in the Confessio. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. it is to read the universal book. . and arts. Yet once again. . Interestingly. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. the Fama concludes by asserting that “our building (although one hundred thousand people had very near seen and beheld the same) shall for ever remain untouched. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. of eclecticism or universalism. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. and by them was made the magical language and writing. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. full of geometric symbolism. called I. the foundations and contents of all faculties. . and withal by reading understand and remember. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. and shall be) hath been. so that no one might later be deceived. but follow only Christ. or hope for.
and writing in a “magic language. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. yea. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by
. the Bible. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. into all beasts . without and against the will of God. and endue them with learning . a new language for ourselves. a new era for mankind.74
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Likewise. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. . yea. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. and quite probably to Egypt. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. and made.”52 “These characters and letters. for instance. or sixth age. of course. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. All of this.” Such an idea of a magic language has. and above all. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. a very long history in the West. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. . Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. and have found out. . as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. for instance. .54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. or worse than nothing.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. with the date 1604. 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. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. metahistorical events at the end of time. . . in the Rosicrucian mysteries. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. yet shall we never be manifested . in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things.”55 The implication is that here. of course. 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. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity.
sigils and magic squares. 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. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. and it too has been used in magical workings. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. Here.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. particularly in France. By 1623. as well as in subsequent literature. or intelligences. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. was of a non-sectarian. the Confessio. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. Here. discovered the “Enochian language. or pansophia. demons. disappearing around 1620. that is. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. R. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. The Rosicrucian dream. on a pansophic mysticism. and the outrageously baroque. peaceful. brilliant.’s tomb. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following
. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt.” 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. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. And all of this was tied in with the emerging rationalist and materialist paradigm of the so-called Enlightenment—which was precisely opposed to the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. 1604. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. John Dee (1527–1604). or why. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. 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. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. as Frances Yates notes. who.
of course. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. 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. Paracelsus. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. or magia naturalis. healing. Pansophy as a movement corresponds exactly to this kind of self-placement and synthesis: it is the emergence of a universalist Western esotericism willing to draw on all previous esoteric movements. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. magical. Christian or not. Ruechlin. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. often with Kabbalistic influence. which is specifically Christian gnosis. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. alchemy. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. cabala. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as
. for instance. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). in order to form the basis for a new. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism.. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. in contrast to theosophy. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. it emphasizes magic. and Michael Maier. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. but like Dee. We might recall that. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. including. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. It is true that chemistry. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. herbalism. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. Pansophy. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. 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. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. alchemical. is universal. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. mechanism. not specifically Christian. various forms of magic. derived from alchemy.76
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the Rosicrucian announcements. The pansophic view. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. In many respects. and gnostic. cabalistic. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. The most obviously included is natural magic. and technologism. 1618)]. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom.p. and inquiry into nature more generally.
One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. In some respects. in later Rosicrucianism.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. of vast and intricate tables. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. including a French edition titled F. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. as a somewhat medieval figure. including sorcery. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. Metaphysica. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. magic squares. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. chiefly under the title Physica. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. planetary correspondences. D. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. and much else. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. and a series of
.M. et Hyperphysica. But Chemistry]. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. almost all. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century.A. Philosophia. even if it is illicit. nee non Magia. we tend to think of Faust. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. Among the first of these.O. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy.. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. diagrams. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. de La Rose-Croix. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. Cabball.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
the basis for magical practices including sorcery. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge.
” “Animal Seed. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’.78
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triangles and concentric circles below. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. to the esoteric illustrations accompanying Johann Gichtel’s edition of Böhme’s collected works? Is this a specifically Rosicrucian illustration at all? Such questions I leave for others to answer.” and has on either side gnomic sayings.
. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. or to Rosicrucianism. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation.” and so forth. the greatest occultist of his day. of its hyperphysical dimensions. marked also Father. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. and with the word Chaos. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. for instance. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. surrounded by winged angelic forms.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. Son. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. in visual form.M.M. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. of course. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers.” “Vegetable Seed. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. here we have a different focus. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms.” and “Mineral Seed.O. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. John Dee. that is.O. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography.” “Heavenly Seed. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy.A. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos.A. in time and in eternity. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. partaking in both. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. for instance. in scholastic theology. and Holy Spirit. Here.
(London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. or the Temple of Wisdom. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. and specifically. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. Freemasonry. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. not a visionary. which. each of which guarded its particular mysteries.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
There was a time. stretching right into the nineteenth century. science. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. but published only in German). Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. Another such figure. not so very long ago. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. the social and political realm. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. the arts. of course. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. author of such works as Theomagia. who studied minerology. unlike these other more individualistic movements. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. invented an industrial process. in other words. was John Heydon. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. and associated with the vast
. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. theosophic. originally a scientist. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. of course. For all of the Rosicrucian. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. (London: 1665). who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. truly a Renaissance man. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. One sees this also. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era.
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. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. Of course. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. having received a knighthood for his military service. and Rosicrucianism. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. Plato and the Bible. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. Like Paracelsus himself. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. on which he explicitly drew. 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. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. of course. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. and during this time began work on his major treatises. but the Freemasons endured the longest. Sir Thomas Fludd. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. Fludd. the Kabbalah. 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. to a speculative. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. 1617). and the sciences. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. semireligious occult fraternity. the arts. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. in 1616 and 1617. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. Such publication was. not surprisingly. Indeed. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. of course. Robert Fludd went to St. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent.80
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cathedrals of medieval Europe.” published in Leiden. Masonry. his father. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. Martianus Capella and. John’s College in Oxford. and although
. Jewish. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. Indeed. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all.
John Dee. and back to England. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. and assiduous bibliophile.
.” Elias Ashmole. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. But in any event. astrologer. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford.”61 But for our purposes. Himself an alchemist. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. Dr. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. Marin Mersenne. 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. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637.60 Then again. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. Ashmole. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. it was clear to Fludd that identification with the Rosicrucians subjected one to much public vitriol—Fludd had been the subject of bitter attacks by a French monk. born to an aristocratic family. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. Dee’s son. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. By the early 1630s. who had actually gone in search of the Rosicrucians (to the dismay of Mersenne) and Mersenne’s massive attacks on Hermeticism and Kabbalism as well as Rosicrucianism certainly influenced the emergence of what has come to be known as Cartesian rationalism. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. Arthur Dee.
an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. of course. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. and must remain so. using a symbolic metalanguage. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley.62 Backhouse’s father. . were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. but they are in any case gnostic. John Dury (1596–1680).” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. All of this. The true name is hidden. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. was not simply an antiquarian. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together.64 These three men. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. of course.”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. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. . never referred to it again.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. Samuel.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). .82
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Ashmole. and only philosophers of the English Revolution. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. . and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. after recording this revelation. or as Kabbalistic. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. when Backhouse thought he was dying. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. the real . He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. and John Comenius (1592–1690). one could ignore it. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany
. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. except to his own spiritual son. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. It is significant that Ashmole.
which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. according to the Constitutions. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. 4. 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.
. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. Philosophicall. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). Early in the eighteenth century. 3. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. needless to say. like the symbolism of alchemy. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. . . . However. But most important for us is the final point. Chymical. The aim of a magical language is. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . Such a language. Freemasonry. and Mechanical.”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. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. 2. esoteric: to limit those who understand it.HISTORICAL CURRENTS
and in England. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures.” certainly a pansophic goal. . Also important here is the third point.
consisting in three degrees of apprentice. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. excepting only theology and politics. In this oration. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. solid. fraternal Freemasonry. especially in England. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. nonsectarian basis. suppress. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . On the other hand. became prominent in French Masonry. On the one hand. Ramsay. . for instance. luminous. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. Italy.68 Within Masonry itself. and indeed. including. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. had an exoteric. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. deism. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. announced in Ramsay’s oration. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. fellow craftsman. After her death. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743).
. it is not surprising that this project. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. In it. The work has already been commenced in London. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. while publishing numerous books. great. . Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. especially in France. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. England. with its general tendency to reject. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. or ignore esotericism. 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. And during this time. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. Masonic values of rationalism.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. and master mason. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry.84
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Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. a theosophic circle in London.
Rosicrucian. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. which is as follows: one word for a divine. As we have already seen.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too.
Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. God has sealed the six directions of space. 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. In other words.”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. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. based as it is on the craft of building. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words.8). and six for the fellow craft.” In other words. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. six for the clergy. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. I answer it was God in six Terminations. of human and divine architecture both. that is. even to this day. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. by which. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. In the Graham manuscript of 1726. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. to wit I am. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. specifically. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. Freemasonry. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. Indeed. theosophic.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism.
All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. magic. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. Finally. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition.” or signature. pansophy. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. Kabbalah. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. which has been sporadically realized by individuals.86
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Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. including alchemy. What is more. 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. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. the theme of our next section. not consume it. And this role is played out through reading and writing. Here. including humanity). joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. and the divine. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. Above all. For according to Western esotericism generally. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. Rosicrucianism. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. but as the actual medium linking humanity. not just as the means of communication among people. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. Here. Masonry. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. in Western esotericism. its secret “silable. nature. of course. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge.
. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification.
.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 ) .
T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .
.Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r.
.). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme.
. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. Theosophia Revelata.).
. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
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 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph.
(Frankfurt: 1784). as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration.Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o .
. 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 .
and the evocative.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. “The Music of Dawn. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work.” 1988.
. Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations.
.” 1976.Figure 10
And what strength I have’s my own. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. or else my project fails. Now I want Spirits to enforce. The main character. the magician Prospero. Which was to please. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. Or sent to Naples. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Which is most faint. The Tempest.3
P R O S P E R O ’ S WA N D : M O D E R N E S O T E R I C L I T E R AT U R E In the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults
. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. And pardoned the deceiver. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. has brought the play’s action to an end.
Here Prospero. Suddenly. and words—often Hebrew. Here. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. and Freemasonry. Conventionally. In all of these esoteric traditions. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. we realize that we. there are numbers. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. but there is no transference of magical power. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. via the main character. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). 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. letters. for instance. having relinquished his magical power. standing above a reclining woman. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. shows a tall. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. to invoke the forces of creation itself. pansophy. To be a vehicle for the right words. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. To incant is to enchant. Initially. Rosicrucianism. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. Reading. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. Warlick. is to touch the nature of being itself. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. Let your indulgence set me free. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. is a prosaic matter. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. That is. E. today. are the magicians. by virtue of his skill with words. in effect gives his wand to his audience. often little more than the accumulation of data. as audience. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. to the audience. also a magician. it is often inverted and does not
. and freed him. to sing or to say into being. for example.88
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Mercy itself and frees all faults. winged creature in an ornate room. In this most magical of plays. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. traditionally. for most of us. As you from crimes would pardoned be. where the poet-singer is.
I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). as can in fact be said of the works of. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
seem to convey a particular kind of esoteric understanding. V. sometimes more implicitly. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. with sections on each of the major currents. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. and so I will not discuss them further here. S. and perhaps for someone else to do. Naturally. to the magical fiction of C. (1886–1961). not only in the case of Ernst. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. It is certainly worth doing. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However. But his learning is of a particular kind. third. V. his mother Jewish. as with Emerson or Rilke. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. Milosz traveled widely. After a good education. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. his parents somewhat cold and aloof.. into the world of French intelligentsia. during which time his family sold their estate. more or less. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. as with Yeats or H. secular or not. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. Here. turning then to H. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. more
. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. I will leave such a project for another time. of even greater value is a vertical. D.
Canticle of Knowledge: O. horizontal survey is of value. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. the poet H. and entry. for instance. for instance. split further into sections on poetry and prose. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. sometimes explicitly. D. While a broad.
also a tactile visionary. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. Not so Milosz. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. as he saw it. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. and. Swedenborg was. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. of heaven. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. in 1914. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). come to fruition in literary form.
. Eliot. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. Then. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience.90
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or less like that of the early T. hell. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). for that matter. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. which are what concern us here. 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. These Swedenborg saw. in vision. in fact. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. Goethe. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. William Blake (1757–1827). Among these figures. create a kind of lineage of such figures. Milosz’s poetry. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. S. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. and both wrote in dry. a Don Juanesque figure. and the dwelling places of spirits. and became. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. Kabbalah. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. and Western esotericism in general. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. theosophy. One can. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. he experienced a spiritual illumination. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). and perhaps remains.” However.
from the cosmos.”6 Thus he addresses his writings not to the present age but to the future reader who will experience this new poetry and synthesis of all the disciplines. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. will understand nothing of these things. seems bound.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. seems called upon. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. having asked.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. summarizing in some respects his life’s work.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. through a new metaphysics. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. / Others.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. and also prehistory and archaic history. and especially the figures we are discussing here. Cartographers of consciousness. [For those who. n’entendront rien à ces choses. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. ayant demandé. to join up with ancient teachings. de science et d’amour. the passionate pursuit of the Real. and especially in Milosz. as the organizer of archetypes. But the poet. The canticle continues: “A ceux. knowledge and love. and like Blake. on reçu et savent déjà. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Here it may be useful to remark on the kind of new science we see emerging in these writers. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. and in particular. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. / Les autres. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. the observer looks outward. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. have received and already know. At this juncture.” telling us that “poetry.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918).” which. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. qui.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. thieves of joy and pain. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. astronomy. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. on 14 December 1914. but indeed. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. that he anticipated a new poetry. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. crown of human knowledge.]”7
. to awakening it in his reader.
ni les fils. to the initiate.]”9 In other words. sun. light. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. he continues. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of
. 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. have received.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. blood.92
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Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. “their substance is nameless.” We think that the sensible world is situated. earth. mais bien les père des objects sensibles.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. / For these names are neither brothers. from Pythagoras to Plato. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. but negators. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire].” is not merely a sterile world of symbols.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. are merely thieves of love and knowledge.”8 This gnostic canticle is. of course. etc. and already know. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. soleil.” Indeed. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. water. lumière. this “situated place. those who are not affirmers. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. for “Tous les mots dont l’assemblage magique a formé ce chant sont des noms de substances visibles [All the words whose magical assembling has formed this song are names of visible substances. addressed to the latter. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. darkness. ténèbres. but it is not so. but living. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. sang.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. nor sons. sel.” This earth of the vision of archetypes.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and 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]. eau. not like “Patmos. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. In fact. salt. terre. but truly fathers of sensible objects. But characteristically. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. “meditation on the origin of language. as well as the names of metals.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes].” writing that to understand the origin of language. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge.
a revelation. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. and only describes what he has seen. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. he tells us. that is.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
existence.” There is the earthly gold. he calls us to the celestial gold. Adam. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. of love and of wrath. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world].” “De la magie des mots que j’assemble ici / L’or du mond sensible tire sa secrète valeur [From the magic of the words I gather here / The sensible world’s gold draws its secret value. he implicates us in the poem.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. for as he told us before. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. muet comme le plomb. And so it is here.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. is the “key to the world of light. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word).” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. . At such points. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. or in Milosz’s words. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. 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. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . Milosz tells us again. when Milosz addresses us directly. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. . . The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. Here.” Simply that. of the primal
. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. . / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. Milosz exultantly writes. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme.” This distinction between truth and lie. mute as lead. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. of blessing and of desolation.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun.]”13 As we might recall. and the gold of celestial memory. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. 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. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel.
Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. Milosz writes.” selfknowing.” We might recall that the mirror.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. Milosz muses on his early poetry.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. in theosophic tradition.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. Milosz tells us.” “the world of profound. of light and darkness. [I am always in the same place. and is the province of those who speak pure language.]”16 See. / being in place itself. rather.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. for that matter.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. delirious. chaste archetypes.” “immense. of those who speak pure language. / played with me as a father with his child. innocent. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. and looked behind him. this immense. le seul situé. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. wise. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. hideous. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted.” and “marrow of iniquity.]” Then one day. In the concluding lines of the canticle.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. in the visionary writings of Böhme. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un
. / étant dans le lieu même.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. we find a spiritual corporeality.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. différent.” those “lands of nocturnal din. different.”15 Here we find.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. the only one situated. hideux. and a kind of corporeality of language. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it.” an “eternity of horror. “the Father of Ancients. but “great trials of negation. Thus. and this is the “solar egg. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. not light and serenity of recognition. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. Luciferic brain].94
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powers at work in the constant manifestation of existence. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place.
dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. [1775–1802]).” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. let us make the sign. and clothed with the sun. tender metal partners in marriage. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. at its end.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang. je te touche le front.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. by the grace of inner vision. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. This poem. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. innocents! [The parents sleep there. and for our three days to come.” is unquestionably alchemical. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. le signe! [seven times for the past. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. and his Hymns to the Night. Thus the canticle. is especially of interest to us here. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. but refers to an inner alchemy. et pour nos trois jours à venir. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. again three times. as though the various elements of his mind were projected outward into a kind of initiatic psychodrama of the kind one also sees in ancient Hermetism or the Mysteries. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. Qu’ils sont beaux. to “tender metal partners in marriage. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. tendres métaux époux. I touch your brow. [Dear child. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. “Master. between the lightworld and the darkworld.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good.” replies Beatrix. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. and since we have now known one another seven years. Beatrix.]”
. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. you speak the truth. trois vois—le signe.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos.
” sinks to the depths. leaden and lachrymal. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. The woman in the poem.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. The alchemical
. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. [My chains of constellations are broken. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. any more than are those of the adept. The Master forgives me. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. and “Lumière de l’or. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. Beatrix. The adept watches. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. “I believe it is. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. but a player on the poet’s inner stage.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. of course. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. white and pale blue. He opens his eyes and is reborn. woman. and black.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. tu te délivres. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes.]”21 It is. and to its incantory language. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. I tell you. Beatrice.” while the “oil of blind corruption. charity.96
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The language here is completely that of Hermeticism: indeed. [Light of gold. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. is reborn!” Thus once again.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. but the adept replies. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. charitée. 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. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. you liberate yourself. partaking rather of a heightened. “I see only one. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. yellow. he comes back to life. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. And in the conclusion of the poem.
: initiate]. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. in other words. by a metallic red-hot egg. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed.
. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. a light appears.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull.” and that “In the author’s mind. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. as unemotional as nature. perfectly awake. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. 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. then? Undoubtedly. or rather.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. one senses vast expanses around one. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. after all. is also to participate in it. rests in a horizontal position.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
work. At the same instant. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. the large cloud vanishes.” The line is the fourth verse. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull).” a “faithful and pious narrative. oneself. by Milosz. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. 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. The incantory. in what it reveals. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana.
on which it alights like a crown. moving up a little. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. becomes rounder. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. one may even say. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. its brutal mass wars. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. scientifically.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. It is perhaps useful. thereafter. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. 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. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. though including many great poets.98
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Turning into a golden globe. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. stands still. 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. Milosz
. And authentic literature.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. he is among the most erudite of poets. referring to the reader as “my son. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature.23 There is still more. we must bow down. 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. just as he ignores and despises that world.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. that. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. He insists that in order to understand. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. at this point. Such experience is of the truly situated. yet his erudition. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. and in this there is a kind of reversal. meaning the archetypal realm. Without question.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. because it springs from this archetypal reality. its secular hedonism and materialism. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability.
“Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star].”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. from Egypt up to today.” and
. alias René Descartes. Plato. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew.” Milosz continued.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. Eugène Ledrain. [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.”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. the mystical eighteenth century.” 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. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. Swedenborg. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism.” recalling to us Milosz’s earlier poems and to his imagery of alchemical inner marriage and the revelation of divine Wisdom as the feminine spouse. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. sought in them peace of spirit.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
wrote in a letter that he would like to lecture on a subject he knew thoroughly: “hermetic metaphysics and doctrines. Swedenborg. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. 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. Martinez de Pasqually. Claude de Saint Martin. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. passing through the Pre-Socratics. the School of Alexandria. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle.
as early as 1919. 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. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. King of the unified world. Milosz held. . if we may coin a word.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. Hiram. the visionary poet. wrote for his poetry. . and Savoy. and the true 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. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. R. Joseph de Maistre. and art. science. S. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. Under the heading “Hiram. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. Germany. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. and several other historians of the brotherhoods in their research on the origins of an institution which claims to descend from the Essenes and from the Priests of the Holy
. in short. it is not books that we are waiting for. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. the universal regent of faith. the books open themselves to him. King of the Unified World. words. In his “Poem of the Arcana.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. . Eliot. my son.” which are far more extensive than anything T. and books. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. Le Forestier. inside the books of life and of knowledge. in 1938. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. for instance. Here.100
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a mysticism that has “all those things” “sleeping in closed books” that open themselves under the poet’s hand. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. 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.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition.” in fact.
a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. Religion and science. 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. “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. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs
. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. aspire to holy unification. who announced a coming millennium. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. alias René Descartes.” 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. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. relatively not distant. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. as we have seen. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Sepulchre. He writes that “Today.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons.’ announce their impending appearance.” Here. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. Indeed. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one.”32 Here. especially the dream of a world utopia. like all the continents and all the states of this world. like spirit and matter. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace.”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. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. he brings in the theme that.
Milosz wrote. as we have seen. for instance. I am the enemy of exteriorization. The Master alone will wear a red cap.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. sought the widest possible range. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics.” And in his little esoteric group.
. with a white collar. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. in his work as in his private life. de Lubicz. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. For us. religious.”39 These dreams of universality. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). but explicitly Christian. in his letter to James Chauvet. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. Our group will have no more than twelve members. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. being the Christ-figure. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. and the arts via religion. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical).102
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from antiquity through such figures as John Scotus Eriugena and Jane Leade to modern authors including Vladimir Solovyov and Nicholas Berdyaev. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. And there are numerous other such examples. the “science of the divine. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. not to say grandiosity. and scientific fusion. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. and that he deliberately. the sciences. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. In his work. the other members being his apostles. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. of political. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. however. moral or social. of course. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. author of The Magus.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism.”38 Such a group. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. among them its ritual dress.
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H. C. D. D. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. through his writing. S. D. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. Charles Williams. Indeed. Indeed. magic. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. There is in Milosz’s poetry and prose a peculiar hieratic quality and a special relationship to his imagined reader that will inform our final two chapters. D. D. we
. and a new golden age. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. novels. However. numerology. the poet H. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. Although we here will take our leave of them. a relatively obscure figure. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. Lewis. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. That H. In these efforts. but also for the universality of his aims. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. astrology. and essays. the Tarot. today. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. and Milosz. There are. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life.’s poetry. Rosicrucianism. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. and Kathleen Raine. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. Here.’s life and interests. which outlines the intertwining of H.. D. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). Like Prospero in his final speech.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. little studied in academe. but toward the future.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. of course. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. not toward the present.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. psychic insights or visions. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. D.
and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. save that in H. Likewise.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. mind. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. We should begin. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). D. D. D. “The Thistle and the Serpent. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. for H. was fascinated by numerology. D. In his introduction to H. For it seems clear from her poetry. explicitly esoteric book.’s life it is repeated a number of times. D. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. Notes is a very unusual work. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. D. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). H.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. D.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. like H. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook.104
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will explore how her work explicitly and implicitly initiates the reader through literature and art. astrology. D. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. a cap of consciousness
. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. by recognizing that H. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience.’s early. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. and on the other Margaret Fuller.. however. as many critics have observed. But when we begin to look at H. In Esoteric Origins. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. D. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. overmind. D. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. Margaret Fuller.. D. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. as a wrenching spiritual awakening.”41 Although the major works by H.” Albert Gelpi writes that H.
had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. 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. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. which is possible for all. As we read on through Notes. . except through the intellect. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. 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. like water. D. syncretic
.’s work has feminist implications. She does write about a “vision of the womb. Into that over-mind.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. H. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. H. almost like two lenses. I visualise it just as well. contained in a defininte space. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. yet make one picture. a nonsectarian. engage in a union of love and intellect. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect.” The minds of the lovers unite. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. . a musician. Whatever else we may make of it. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. She writes that to be a true artist. Without doubt. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. is a gnostic with a small g. perceive separately.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
over my head. H. now. a musician. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. It is like a closed sea-plant. D. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . . She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. and third is the awakening into the overmind. affecting a little my eyes . jelly-fish. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. as primary to the true artist. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. or awakening into the overmind. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. transparent. D.”43 H. indeed.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. D. one must. fluid yet with definite body. with the gulls and the sky and the earth.’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. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. or anemone. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. . they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. D. That overmind seems a cap. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. The two work separately. second is the life of the intellect. D.42 H. my forehead. She places gnosis.
unlocked. In this respect. D.” who “know each other / by secret symbols.” H. D.106
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gnostic whose primary emphasis is nonsectarian spiritual awakening.” here. / born of one mother.” we “nameless initiates. for instance.” mind “floundered. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. of the “alchemist’s secret. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. and H. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall.” In the next section.” She writes. . D. prayer” for healing.”45 “Amen.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. is a false path. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. the overmind being above it. Amen. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. . criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy.47 In M.” “arrogance. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. madness. too.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. dare more. She writes “dare.”48 All of this suggests that there is
. / here is the alchemist’s key. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. seek further. she holds. D. was lost in sea-depth.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. spell. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. H.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. / oneness lost. D. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. pitiful reticence.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy.” “Tribute to the Angels. All-father. E. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. over-confidence. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. boasting.” H. Here. reversion of old values. D.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. devour. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. seek. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. as these entities are “healers. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. helpers / of the One. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra.” And the section ends with “illusion. / companions / of the flame. / it unlocks secret doors.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. In Notes on Thought and Vision. this.
” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. D. / in the light of what went before. she is calling herself to a sacred task.” “candle and script and bell. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. but also those who come after her.” whose “province is thought. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. I feel the meaning that words hide. / lead us back to the one-truth. this passage suggests the complexity. H. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. then writes: We have had too much consecration. little boxes. The words themselves may resemble boxes.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
a wrong path.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. D. too little: I know. continues. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. conditioned to hatch butterflies . . with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. this has been proved heretical. artful and curious.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. illuminate what came after.’s invocation of Hermes. / re-vivify the eternal verity. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. too little affirmation.” “invoke the true-magic. but this. D. In a well-known passage.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. cryptograms. this.”49 Thus. symbols of Psyche reborn.” through painting or writing.”
. too much.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. The next work in H. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. devoid of life. they are anagrams. D.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past. H. D.”50 Here H. “patron of alchemists. H. D. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. / inventive. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb.
John. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. but whereas Rilke could not write during war.” One must “reinvoke. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine
. indivisible Spirit. the conditions under which. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. we saw the tree flowering. like a ghost.52 These lines reveal many layers. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H.108
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This. we entered a house through a wall. recreated by the poet. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. so too can the poet be. how is it you come so near. H. the poet must “melt down and integrate. H. the shattered glass of the past. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree.” but re-awakened. D. D. and so too by implication can we be.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. saw. D. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. H. is attempting in her poetry here. it was an ordinary tree. in the high-altar of a ruined building. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. reinvoked in a new form.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). I testify. after all. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. in an old garden-square. D. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. was writing these poems. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico.
is a gnosis of the word. D.’s poetry. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. D. H. / it was the Holy Ghost—. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. . In H. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. conveyed through the poetry. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). This experience. nothing whatever. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. and even more overtly. the next section is very important. D. symbol of Hermes. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine
. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. D. D. And this experience is gnosis. D. H. music could do nothing with it. In this context. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. 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. / the darkness of ignorance. with Saint Michael. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. writes that This is no rune nor riddle.’s vision. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
revelation.” This experience “was vision. the flowering of the wood. the divine feminine. / it was a sign. In it.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. it is happening everywhere. alluded to. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. .’s poetry in general. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. / . Hence H.’s “Tribute to the Angels. and Trilogy in particular. 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.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood.
They are not.’s Trilogy. was a baptized Moravian. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. Hermes is the patron of the artist. the writer. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. allied to Mercury also.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. to her astonishment. under her “drift of veils.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. the scribe. 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. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. D. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. D. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts.110
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appearing through Mary and through the ancient goddesses. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. D. and H. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. / who did not forego our heritage” . Rather. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. in the context of the three poems together. and the thief.” she of the Bona dea. obviously.” And She is also “Psyche. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift.. the butterfly. D.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life.” 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. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. who is also redeemed. D. the thief.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. / out of the cocoon. Sophianic spirituality was in H. as we will see in more detail shortly.” “she carried a book. D. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone.’s own heritage. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified.” “Santa Sophia. and that. the Bible.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. for H. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. D. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. And She is “Holy Wisdom. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. Here it might be valuable to recall that H.” This refrain. right into the final poem. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. whether it is con-
. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. D. She who has been seen “the world over. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. brought into paradise with Christ.” H.
fear.” all are interwoven here. H. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. B. as in the original. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. H. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. D. D.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. The Gift. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. In her poetry. H. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. however.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
venient for the reader’s ideology or not. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. complete with H. Eve and Mary. I suppose. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). It is not surprising.’s own notes. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. D. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. we must turn to The Gift. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. S. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. D. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. 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. that until 1998. Likewise. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its
. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. To understand this mysticism more fully. of mysticism. What is more. Eliot and W. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. 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.” with the experience of Christ.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. D. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. H. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. Hermes and Christ.
Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society.” of the “Arcana. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. We can see the extent and depth of H. 1909). itself. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. Robinson. Pennsylvania. her grandmother’s father. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . had done her research. H. 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. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. 1755). 1753). especially those now housed at Yale University. D. Mysticism. D. . Pennsylvania. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. it was in fact in her blood. D. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. Knapton. H. in her notes. in
. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. and he was born in Bethlehem. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. make clear this distinction. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. D. was herself a baptized Moravian. Rimius. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting.112
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earliest years. H. In other words. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. Linde. D. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. In toto. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. & P. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. cited by H. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. . D.” or Jedediah Weiss. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. H. “Old Father Weiss. though I must confess. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. 1794). in the middle of the eighteenth century. Rimius’s works.”58 About such accusations. D.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. 1753). D. 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.
writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. respected and highly respectable.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. conventionally the church. . is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
my own day. 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. in short. D. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. who through the course of the novel comes to realize the true nature of her gnostic Moravian forebears and their unique relationships with American Indian spiritual elders. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. it does exist. . The Moravian Church. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. referring to Father.” She goes on:
. there was no hint of this exoticism. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. Hilda. D.. D. D. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. Mother.” H. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. but also of the older poet H. and its doctrines as representing a pure. “you just stumble on it. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. writes. into The Gift. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. and Son. We were a small community. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity.. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. to initiate the reader. D.”59 There can be no doubt that Zinzendorf himself and his early circle held views that were seen as unacceptable by the German Protestant establishment at Dresden. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. The novel. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions.
a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. that is why it is so quiet. The word is like a bee-hive. A word opens a door . Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that
. 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. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. D. but there are no bees in it now. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. Williams called a primula. Egyptian . these are the keys. The other bees have gone. Rather. “The Secret. That is how it is. Hilda’s grandmother.114
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It is like matching beads. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven.” The first is when Mamalie. it is what the novel does for H. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). men play a greater role than women. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. . cut on a wall at Karnak. “Christian had left the Secret with me. Then am I for a moment . . can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. .” she told Hilda. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. considerably more of this theme to unpack. as some scholars seem to think. it is like that little flower that Mrs. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. . These spiritual mysteries are not. But there is more. and even here in her narrative. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. the word stops. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. . indeed. in some aspects of the story. I mean.60 This concept of a word opening a door into the lives of one’s ancestors and into spiritual mysteries is at the very center of The Gift. But really “live” it. . Hilda surmises. I mean. A word opens a door. this is the game I play. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. later learning it means Island of Wounds). 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. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. Island of Wonders. but Hilda (and along with her. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. In chapter 5 of The Gift.
not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. She and her
. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. Greek.” This scroll. though.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. done in their picture-writing.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. this laughter that ran over us. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. of snow swirling. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. D. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. but this was untrue. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. Mamalie continues. According to Mamalie.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. though. the answer given by the Spirits. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland.’s. indeed. . . said Mamalie. but all of them.” not just Minne-ha-ha. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. in particular the Shawnee. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. kept in a birch-bark case.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. laughing all the time. altogether. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. had a name for. so that “It was laughing. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. Hebrew. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. of wind. bore the names of Cammerhof. it was the laughter of the water. was to decide the future of the whole country .63 In The Gift.62 Like the Templars. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals.” “the laughter of leaves. is not Europe but North America. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. “like scales running up and down.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. Pyrlaeus. This rapport is historically verifiable.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
[reportedly] had been destroyed and obliterated by the Inquisition. it is not a confabulation of H.
. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French.”69 The two worlds have become one. who was to die at twenty-five. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood.” 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. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. The Gift. In 1755. and then.” as “Aryan. In her notes. And yet in the very final passages. D. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. so that the two of them shared in the original descent of the Holy Spirit just as Hilda was later to share in it through communion with it via what she calls “the Gift.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. raining down terror from the skies. H. 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. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. Christian Seidel. called “New Gnadenhütten. even refers to the American David Williamson. those hiding in the attic burned alive. having “burnt it up. domination. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. or Wounded Island.116
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young husband. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. Mamalie. Wunden Eiland. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. At the novel’s conclusion.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. decoded it and she played it. 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.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. in an even more attenuated form.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. so much so that she never played music again. said in her fragmented narrative. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. And in a subsequent event.
’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. In this context.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm.’s English present. In her profoundly ambitious works. But above all. 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. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. D. and future continually intermingle. As we have seen.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. D.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. Likewise. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. H. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. one of the original Moravian initiates. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. singing of the Wounds.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. Her interest in spiritualism. and out of which all great work is generated. present. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. H.
. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. Among major twentiethcentury authors. not merely as decorations. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
In England.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. both poetic and fictional. H. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. D. the more deeply one looks into her works. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. for instance. past and present. Indeed. H. there. as well as of timelessness and time. her work suggests that past. D. but as integral to her work. D.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. In her poetry and fiction.V.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. D.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. H. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum.
so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. in his pre-Eve manifestation. Elizabeth recalls him to her. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. the Light-bringer. but at the same time. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. D. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. The Lucifer-Lilith. We cannot conclude without reference to H. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh].’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. H. true we had met in sudden frenzy. outlined in entirety. as Adam. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. parted in the dark.118
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she found an esoteric religious perspective that recognized the divine feminine in the form of Sophia. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. H. late Rome. may be Angel or Devil. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. D. dynastic Egypt. yes. and its implications.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. to be sure. and contemporary London. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. Lilith. through time—specifically. as history tells us. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. legendary Provence. After his death. whom we invoke as Lucifer.71
. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. but it was only in her later work that we see it. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. D. Mystery and a portent. although: I hardly knew my Lord. through her fiction and through her poetry. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. meeting and parting. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. Vale Ave. has the same root derivation as Seraph.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. early seventeenth-century England.
I would like to explore not the art of magic. here again “the words laugh.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. taken in toto. The dead are living still. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. D.” and again through it “I had the answer.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. But my
. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . “the Mystery. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. 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.” 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. as in poetry. 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.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. . of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory.’s lifetime of work. the Writing. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. the “springs gone under the hill.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Obviously. . Here. Her poetry and her prose. Of course.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. and the Scroll. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. 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.” the holy presences withdraw. D. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams.” the mysteries of the holy well.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word.73
Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. / infinity portrayed in simple things. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible.
75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories.” “Sir. “The Descent of the Gods. and the descrip-
.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. between the production of an artistic “Secondary World” and a work whose purpose is also “alteration in the Primary World”? It would seem that in reality these two can coëxist in a single work.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. as one might imagine. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. things are not nearly so clear cut. it is not an art but a technique. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. seems reasonable enough in theory. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. fay or mortal.120
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aim here is to explore fiction that carries the reader into the working of expressly magical ritual and experience. R. domination of things and wills.” replies Ransom. invokes the Oyéresu. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. yes. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. C. they will unmake all Middle Earth. the “true powers of Heaven. here.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. or Venus. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. Viritrilbia.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. John Ransom. Here.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. Magic produces. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. Lewis. “That is why they will work only through a man.” But later in the same essay. His main character. J. S.” says Ransom. C. J.” “Their naked power. “one who by his own will once opened it. or pretends to produce. saying “I have become a bridge. R. S. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. an alteration in the Primary World.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. Let us take an example. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. and so forth. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). its desire is power in this world. Tolkien. it remains distinct from the other two. or Mercury. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. R. R.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. when we turn to actual works.” which might best be translated as “magic. and Charles Williams).
to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival.” “He would have known sensuously. sticky gums . Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. They could not bear that it should end. calling down the powers. and the Blue Room. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . They could not bear that it should continue. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. ready to kill. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. scorched. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. unmitigated. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen.” Merlin and Ransom tremble.” the narrator tells us. In the beginning of the chapter. . . In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. ready to die. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. They experience “needle-pointed desires. 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. brisk merriments. bright and ruthless. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. .” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. In this chapter. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. outspeeding light: it was Charity . where the invocation has its center. deafened. They thought it would burn their bones. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. . here. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. 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 . . . The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. were it possible. . but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. 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. . sharp. until his outraged senses forsook him. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house.”80 It is not really possible.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
tion of this event is one of the most extraordinary evocations of magical working in literature. sweet-scented and full of desire.
though one could easily imagine it so. of course. Therefore
. In other words. About Williams’s novels. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. In so doing. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. The invocation takes place. Anne’s. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. and the Director (Dr. “Obviously it was high time she went in. in a “secondary world” of fiction. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. 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. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks.122
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magician Merlin participates.” the seventeenth chapter. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. one with ordinary people. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. she sees that clothes are piled inside. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. and one with Merlin and Ransom). rather like Elijah or King Arthur. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. and by its end.”81 I cite this prosaic finale precisely because it is so deliberately ordinary: it brings us back completely from the magical atmosphere of the novel’s main body to mundane life. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters.
]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. they unveil the power of archetypes and. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. for instance. in general. [Emphasis added. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. and decidedly corrupt ones. in fact. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. almost cathartic effect. Who and what is Lilith. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. . For that. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
some may feel depressed or repulsed by the down side of his books and their evocation of the essence of evil. 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. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. By doing so. [Emphasis added. and her observations are revealing. still Williams’s fiction is still by and large of a different kind from the specifically magical fiction that we saw in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. In effect they are initiations. I am afraid. one is also encountering new realms of existence. I have put a great deal into it. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. not find it very entertaining. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . I wrote it. It was not written for its entertainment value. and insist on appearing again? Have I furnished myself with a dark familiar?83 Here Fortune gives voice to exactly the theme we are here investigating: how the writing of a book can be a magical act. they reveal forms of necromancy. On the other hand. . to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. for in the act of reading. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. and how therefore the reader is in
. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. to find out what it was about.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world.
magicians call it magic. like all of her
. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. In some respects. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. that is to say. badly lit and ill-tended room. In the novel’s seventh chapter. Fortune’s novel.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. Moon Magic is exemplary of this complementary relationship between the extraordinary events the narrator relates and the matter-of-fact tone in which such events are discussed. and I seemed to be in a strange room. putting my cards on the table. but Fortune was. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. untidy. and imagined myself speaking to him. appears clearly in her novels. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. It does not matter to me what it is called. a shabby.124
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some senses a participant in that magical act. the side She turns away from earth. 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. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. which is the dark side of the Moon. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. who is Moloch. not surprisingly. after all. She gave rise to the character Lilith. I made the astral projection by the usual method. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. for it is effectual. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. The magic worked. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did.
Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. the ordinary observer of the magus 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. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. I was no longer alone. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. a young woman named Ursula
. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. “in all things there was a profound difference. Rhodes. at the end of the story. . In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength.”85 And so the book concludes. Rhodes. As a character.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
fiction. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. one will recall. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. but perhaps most interestingly. and many others. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. . (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. Taverner. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. Holmes. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. for. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. but I shared in their life. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. After his entry into the Unseen. like Taverner. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. a fellow named Fouldes.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. Not only were they alive. 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. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. I had passed over into the Unseen.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. to “enter the Unseen. 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. was consummately the logician. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. The Secrets of Dr. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. Marius. for I was one with them . Thus Rhodes.
The girl he could do nothing for. suddenly. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. an experienced magician.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. they are without morality. ‘Well. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. a bear of a man. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). Of the two books. He was experienced in dealing with such things. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. cold and merciless.’ Brangwyn concluded.
. In That Hideous Strength. pure selfishness. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. ‘so that’s that.’ ‘Yes. and. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. . among them men named Frost and Wither. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. Frost and Wither are without mercy.126
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Brangwyn. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. . like Astley in The Winged Bull.’ said Brangwyn. banked and double-banked. they were getting it in the neck. there are also depraved black magicians. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. ‘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. breaking the embarrassing silence. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. and her half-brother. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. Yet paradoxically. but then Murchison. .’ replied Murchison. Then. . The strange. and in another moment the room was empty .’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. but also logically.
experience of magic. Whether or not a disciple has a master.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
This is not merely a cliché: in order for the magical drama to go forward. . helped by appropriate texts. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. There is. 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. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. or with the help of an initatory. S. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case.90
. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. Lewis. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . 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. . and Fortune. and thanks to that. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. But Charles Williams and even C. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. Taverner. Williams. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. In all of the fiction we are considering here. 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. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. in this kind of fiction. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. either alone. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society.
Such a tension corresponds. 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. Finally. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. Second. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. 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.” What conclusions can we draw. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. in literary form.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. Indeed. thoroughly real. 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. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. then. In fact. active imagination is essential. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. Third. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. Williams. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. since in the fiction we have been discussing.
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I would suggest that the order of these final points be reversed. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.” and thus to written works like novels. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole.
which is why I have chosen to study them together. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. Theosophic illustrations in particular. an important and genuinely original British painter. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. Thus. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. 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. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. Collins was a gifted aphorist. and that like his contemporary poet. higher aspects of nature and humanity. E. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. in the sense of Rilke. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. and his writings reveal in detail his
. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. held in London’s Tate Gallery. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. Still. indirectly or directly. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend.. 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.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
The authors we have considered here knew or knew of one another. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism.
Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. As we have already seen. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. 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. transcendent and perhaps. but with the publication of this book. angelic realm. but also in Böhmean theosophy. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. there remain fundamental differences.
of his solitary walks in the countryside. I remember you. But here I wander.130
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worldview. we are all exiles. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. 1945.” 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. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side.” or again. and I know nothing. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians
. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. In “Hymn of Life. Totnes. to come to fruition. I long for my race. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. Denies the artist. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. [14 January. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. A winter of the spirit is over all society. In Cambridge in 1945 he wrote acidly What an age to live in! It bites into you with a formless denying of the life in us. A frustration of all that which is growing. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. is imbued always with spiritual significance. denies all who have inward fruit. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. But you exist. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. Our time denies.’ must make intellectual connections individually. I know of your existence. I long for my kingdom.95 In 1965. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. the contemplative. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. and my life with you. the human being.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. of all that which desires to give. for he must ‘leap the gaps. for Collins. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything.” Ordinary life in the natural world. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. and most holy are you O beautiful servants.
and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. and the making of money.97 Works of art. . they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. . In “Art and Modern Man” he continues to discuss what art is capable of achieving: Art is a realization of what is and not of what appears to be[. awaken this inner rapport in us. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. but only by rapport with those worlds. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. by description. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. the meaning.] 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. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. The value of the artist is not to decorate. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. rapport. by measurement or analysis. in Collins’s view. 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. It can only be known by inner nuance.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life.
. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. For like answers to like and creates actualization . Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. This is the same thing actually. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent.
Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. the answer comes back to us from within them. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. In the past. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. in Collins’s view. . he writes that This is the time of unveiling. we have communion with it[. and what is more. But there is something else that has to be opened. . and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. canonic language.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying.98 The work of art. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. in a “time of the apocalypse. the unveiling of the atom. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. We live. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . and that is the eye of the heart. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. in Collins’s view. his inner world. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. widened. he writes.” He continues: We now have the possibility of this hidden unity of man’s inner world at last permeating the sphere of the exterior world and transforming it. it becomes qualitative. spiritu-
. trees. ‘Everything that lives is holy. religious. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. canonical religions and ritual. 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. the elements.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed.’ In other words. the opening of man’s inner nature. We are all apt to fall asleep. rocks.132
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As our consciousness becomes transformed we become more sensitive to a wider range of nuance and vibration[.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. we have no canonic culture of our own.” In his final remarks. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. and transmuted.
Here. an active support. hieratic quality. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. like “Angels” (1948). to the right a human figure with a sweeping robe that looks as though it rises out of the earth exactly as does the hill behind it. as in many of his visionary paintings. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. her head bent back and contemplative. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. and vibrant color. dreamlike. by patterns on the limbs and torso. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. To gaze at this painting is to
. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. the one with the sword. make it bleed. in “The Invocation. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. What we are asked to do in the new age is to understand what the function of art is and to give our support and collaboration to the artist.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
ally. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. In many of his later paintings. a union of figure. and the other with the light. the figures’ eyes are opened. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized.” 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 in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. too. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. landscape is transformed as well. Often. not afraid to wound the heart. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). but that is uplifting and paradisal. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. Many of these images have a strange. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. landscape.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. to the left the orb of the sun.
is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. and indeed. his drawings.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. Indeed. D. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. In another book. Poems. Meditations. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images.. or altar. so that God becomes a table. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. but central. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. Here.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. And it is also clear. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. by which we make contact with reality through images . and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. . to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. Collins wrote in this book. H. . and poems that illuminate his paintings.. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. chair. a world between us and it. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. like an electrical transformer. But Collins offers these through visual images. Divine Reality. in Collins’s view. Lost paradise and
. he offers through his paintings. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997).134
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sense anew Collins’s expectation of a new era. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. D. In this respect. we then have ‘sacred space. In all of these works.’ sacred images. he is like very few other painters. as in the works of Milosz and H. but also essays. that like Milosz. not least because his work includes not only images. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. aphorisms. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently.
we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. First. of course. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. for instance. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. Thus our third point: that
. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. what we find is in fact the via negativa. or mere entertainment. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. and awakening gnosis. and the via negativa. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. as Dionysius himself points out. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. or way of affirmation. as a means of transmitting knowledge. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. For in our overview of Western esotericism. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. although they may contain an element of play. to the conjunction of spirituality.
THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. and the arts in written form. science. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. Strictly speaking. the way of images and forms and transformations.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
the restoration of paradise. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. It is. these are the themes of these great artists. but rather. or way of negation. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence.
but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. psychology. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos.’ quantifiable knowledge. plant extracts.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. ‘third element. and the divine. Rather. In modern education. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. between humanity and the cosmos. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. or Symbols.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. on the other hand. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. and so on. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. sociology. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. Here is the essential division between a modern. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. geology. the cosmos. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. Western esoteric traditions. chemistry. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature.136
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in the Western esoteric traditions.’ the divine. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. between the human and natural realms. D. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. and there is sheer transcendence. But in Western esoteric traditions. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. hidden. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. Ideas. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. And Western esoteric literature. In a modern worldview. history. works only by reference to this third element. there is only the division between self and other. sometimes called by Böhme the
. the divine.
The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. This archetypal realm. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. and literary expression. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. Rosicrucianism. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. Thus the artist. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. is in fact prophetic. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. but nothing. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. in this worldview. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. theosophy. and his fall from paradise. often seen as androgynous. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. In all of these traditions. a theologian. Adam. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. a mythologist. a divine mathematics. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. for all three of these poets. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. cosmology. or Fullness. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. meaning by that not absence. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. the absolute unity of subject and object. alchemy. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. an artist. The aim of the esoteric
. and by others the Nothing. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. in order to create. 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. by definition a ‘seer. or any of the other major esoteric currents. biology.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. and a chemist. first. we find a divine art and a divine science. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. In brief. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. The artist.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Ungrund. For the purpose of such literature is.
which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us.138
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practitioner. where it arguably sparked the entire
. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. author of The Magus. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. magical. an alchemist. whether a Kabbalist. contains some secret of wisdom. In this perspective. or a pansoph. and Masonic illustrations. theosophic. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing .’”102 Likewise. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. . and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. Rosicrucian. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). pansophic. for instance. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. Hence. the language of creation itself. and notarikon. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. a theosopher.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. temurah. even from a single 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. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. almost always denoting divinity. 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. . which is to say.
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symbolist movement and. when surveying the various esoteric currents. generally speaking . It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. influenced much of modern Russian literature. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. following the various currents through Kabbalism. 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. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity.104 Obviously. 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. it may be the “Book of Nature.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. theosophy. in their cosmogonic mythologies the genesis of a new world was conceived principally as a glottogenetic process: the creation of new language obtained the paramount role in the realization of a new ideal world of the future. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. and especially of written language and of the book. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 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. Social Realism. consequently. certainly it may be the Christian
. .” or the “Book of Life”. and Masonry. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. magic. Futurism. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language.’ and this is not necessarily so.” or the “Book of Revelation.
But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. Even in the case of alchemy. Islam. and indeed even farther back. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission.140
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Bible or the Jewish Talmud or the Islamic Koran. However. and what is more. or masters. 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. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. interrupted. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. gurus. but rather relied upon the written word. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. which indeed still finds them audiences today. But what about Western esotericism in the Christian world? Why are there virtually no verifiable traditional initiatory lineages like those we find in other traditions? There are of course exceptions—one thinks in particular of Freemasonry and its claims to a continuous lineage going back at least to the time of the Knights Templar. where the tradition
. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. In Hinduism or Buddhism. 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. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. and Geber. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. or nonexistent. and so on back into antiquity. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. Indeed. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. for instance. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. Given our overview. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. or in Buddhism. Hermes. much less in Christianity specifically. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism.
Such evocation is. in addressing this far-off “son. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. when we look at the writing of Milosz. These illustrations. By contrast. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. naturally. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. Somehow.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. and in particular at its strange. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. hieratic. whatever one . may think of his poetry. which in turn generated a host of further written works—as if the written word itself were the primary means of individual and social transformation. for in all cases. V Milosz. initiatory. Milosz. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. to some future initiate in a far century. In modern parlance. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. One thinks here. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. Christian theosophic literature. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. dreamlike language and imagery. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. Let us take another example. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. of Abraham Abulafia. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
focuses a great deal not only on mystical exegesis. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. are not simply decorations. particularly the works of Böhme. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions.’ or ‘data’. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. I believe. who. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. That is to say. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. Indeed. but who rather offered the world only written works. often strikingly beautiful. but
. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy.’ a means of conveying ‘information. of course. have been adorned with copious illustrations. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. Such a view of the written word is. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness.
and flower in the reader too. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. and over time those seeds can take root. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. for instance. it is more immediate and visceral. Such an illustration. the dark-world of hell. If a book is to serve an initiatic function.106 To explain this phenomenon. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. In my view. that is. In this way. Obviously. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. marked also “Sophia. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. grow. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. Taken together. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. the lightworld of paradise. tending. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. pansophic. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. Rather.” or Wisdom. This metaphor—of sowing. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. For instance. theosophic. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. What is more. by gazing at such an image. in other words. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. through the turbulence of earthly life.142
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reveal in condensed visual form essential aspects of the theosophic tradition. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. I use the term ahistorical continuity. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. reaping. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. which refers to
. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. represented by a cross. so there is no need here to repeat myself. does have an initiatic function—that is.
it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. Perhaps. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. Here. Thus. it can reëmerge in another. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. . If. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
the continuation of a specific esoteric paradigm precisely without any direct historical lineage. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that
. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. as I am suggesting. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. or a biology textbook. this function must be a change in consciousness. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. After all. for example. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. it is also possible for an individual or group to rediscover or reawaken a particular archetypal paradigm latent within a tradition without any direct contact with such a lineage. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. . although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. the daily news. one might even say impossible. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. and who have a desire to begin. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. you truly will know its worth. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. Such a reader joins with the author.’ 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. and are in earnest. Naturally. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. leave untouched the precious Names of God . instead. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. if you wish to use this little book aright.
and a prayer before sleep. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. and experience the divine directly. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path.144
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gave rise to them. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. in his “Warning to the Reader. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. 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. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. which it sees as divine. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. and second. not by merely mouthing the words. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. a prayer for washing and dressing. and so on for the entire week. but. this objectifying delusion. a prayer for one’s daily work. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. or has knowledge-of.
.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. Then that thing. it walks in its own delusion. and for when one rises. but the “instrument of God.” “Be rightly warned.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth.” If on the one hand. judgemental consciousness.” for they will experience not only the words he has written.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. he tells us. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. and become not its own possession. one automatically is caught in delusion. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. to become a channel for the divine current. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life.”107 Or again. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. a prayer for the evening.” or objectified realm. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. a prayer for noon. the source from which they emerge. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first.
From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. or subject and object. Above. at the far limit of what we can express in language. divine in its origin. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. as are nature and humanity. then language must reflect this division. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. 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 origin not only of language. there is no sense of separation between self and other. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. but of the cosmos itself. in Western esotericism generally. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. in the archetypal realm there is
. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. we have the point of origin.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
not even in relation to the divine. of course. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. or divided from the divine. in that there remains an observer. love and wrath. conversely. although there are divisions between archetypes. There emerges a spacious or open quality. between the divine and the natural. or perceiver and what is perceived. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. the self in one sense continues to exist. or the divine eye that sees itself. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. just as. Indeed. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. as we have seen. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. the light and the dark. Here we are. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. For language is in its innermost nature divine. There is simply awareness. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. In other words. in other words. where. In this sublime unity there is no congealing into an objectified self-other division—through paradox and enigma is expressed the sheer transcendence out of which emerges the dazzling archetypal realm. the yes and the no.
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. or manifest more indirectly in literature. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. this objectification of literature and literary theory has much to do with why such theoretic discussions are so often unreadable—from a viewpoint within the ambit of Western esotericism. and the participatory. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. the divine is perforce unmentionable. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. which is rife with the language of objectification. in modern literary theory or theories of language. secular. Undoubtedly. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. secular. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. and objectified worldview. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. for after all. The massive machine of the modern technological. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.146
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still no possession or ownership. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. transformative. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. consumerist state was built from a materialist. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. or separation into self and other. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. Language. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. During this
. For Western esotericism. nature. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. and the divine. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. but never owned. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. But by the late twentieth century. By contrast. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. in these esoteric traditions. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. suppression. and so forth. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world.
to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. and the arts.
L I T E R AT U R E . but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are
. in theosophic works. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. the Lullian art. To this we now turn. religion. inner territory. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. of awakening latent. and the divine. in particular. Buddhism. including elements of the sciences. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. which is to say. troubadours and chivalry. scientific or otherwise. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. but also for society itself. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. A R T. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. psychology. too. But to begin to explore this new. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. profound connections between humanity. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. If so. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. 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. after all that we have surveyed. nature. As we have seen throughout this study. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. magic or theosophy. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. at least for some.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
time. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. to name only a few.
Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. beyond history. . here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality.
. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. as the seers tell us. not the life of shadows. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. but of reality. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. images. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. 1867–1935). but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. To use Plato’s metaphor. E. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. A. as we have seen. 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 .148
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vehicles of spiritual praxis. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. Naturally. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. Indeed. In this view. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. and indeed. But A. . fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. he tells us. The poet’s psyche. found throughout Western history. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. A. E. rejoicings. nature. In this esoteric view of literature. A. 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. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. to turn to a poet. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. ascends to “that high state where. joys. he simply began to murmur line after line. In his book Song and Its Fountains.”111 Unconscious of creation. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. (George William Russell. It may be of use. and the divine. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. E. at this juncture. E. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. to write presupposes already having seen. a friend of Yeats. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks.
gone inward into itself. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. it draws nigh to its own divine root. A.” he wrote. E. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. There was neither sight nor sound. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. Yet A. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. E. but of the universal spirit he understood little. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words.” he wrote. even if unaware of precisely how or why. though too often they have not kept faith
. analyzes the movement of consciousness. from a descent after an ascent. A. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness.”115 He understood something of the psyche. A. later discussed with W. “I have. the creation of poetry in A. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. the poet. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being.”113 This movement of consciousness A. B. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. “and then what was originally a motion in deep being broke into a dazzle of images which symbolized in some deep way a motion of life in that profundity. E.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
dance.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. Yeats. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. “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.”117 For this reason. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. E. E. was later translated into words.”114 A far exile from that glory. E. A.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. E.”116 Still. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. looks upon the poet as a prophet. and song.” Thus. recognized his limits. but all was a motion in deep being. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. 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. perhaps surprisingly. and after that images.
thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. But at times they still receive the oracles. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. E. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. when it becomes truly self-conscious. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. without knowing it.” And there is more. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. in that solitude we may meet multitude.”121 These insights of A. Thomas Bromley.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. the view of literary creation that A. when we seem most alone. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. E. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. may. E. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. and they wove into drama or fiction. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. for instance. In Christian theosophy. the further we come out of the animal Nature. . And A. In essence. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. A. they come “trailing clouds of glory. characters they had never met in life. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. Throughout our investigations. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other.150
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with the invisible . for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. E. or division into self and other.” The psyche. as did the sybils of old. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. .”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. 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. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. 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. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so.
. 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.
where. absorbed completely in a book. E. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. E.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. and experiences.’s case. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. and the world is shot through with light. and nearer both to Heaven. at least temporarily. In Bromley’s case. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. and we must. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. fiction. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. the author also is not directly present. One becomes what one sees. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. symbols. the poet is more like a receiver. or drama. and to one another in the Internal. Of course. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. and so requires our sympathetic participation. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. the book or work has been separated from its writer. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. more powerful. We are carried along on the words of the author. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or
. in between both author and reader. and between the models that they represent. which no earthly Distance can hinder. which later emerge in poetry. events. although there is still an observer and what is observed. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. Likewise.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. passive. say. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. on the other a visionary poet. and taken on a kind of life of its own. or of Captain Ahab. E. by A. as if we knew them as neighbors. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. For who. like theater. Reading. One experiences great bliss. for instance. in A.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
the more universal we are. In the first case. there also is participation in what is observed. a novel. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. irrespective of time or distance—and A. in the latter case. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. as if by happenstance. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. But nonetheless. In this realm. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other.
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. existing in a supraphysical dimension. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. For when a reader engages in a literary work. fiction. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. symbolizes eternal conditions. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. The difference. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. and one enters into the new birth. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. for example.152
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insights it expresses can exist. our authors tell us. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. We see this in the Book of Revelation. And indeed. 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. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. Ordinary. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. playing for keeps. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. the visions of the theosophers are real. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. one turns away from the painting. but eventually puts the book down. magic is real. or to have it stricken. presumably. 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. Of course. By contrast. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. Perhaps. 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. drama. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility.
. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. in alchemical work. and in Kabbalistic practice. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. we might reverse the terms. essays. and one has entered a new world. whereas the esotericist is. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. of course. habitual self is gone. and books. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. writing.
And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. the Kabbalist. Abraham Abulafia. Ramon Lull. R. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. Nicholas
. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. the literary work. Jacob Böhme. Johannes Tauler. John Pordage. but there is much more to be done. Secret Societies. and may even connect profoundly with each other. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. but what came into existence through him. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. is to attain paradisal immortality. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. or Kabbalists—by self-election. Yet at the same time. lives on. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. their works like second nature. But fundamental questions remain. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. in the process of creating a fictional world. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. If a primary aim of the alchemist. R. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. Jane Leade. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. gnostics. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
Yet it may be that the two versions of the game remain essentially similar. fiction. the Kabbalist. Thomas Bromley. Meister Eckhart. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. the alchemist. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. the gnostic. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. so too is the author.
And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. literature. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. and consciousness. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed.124 The Ungrund. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. Berdyaev tells us. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. 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. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. In being. “add it to his own arsenal of power. but in every case. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. taken together. the author is reaching out.” It may well be. 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). moreover. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. therefore. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. in the
. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature.154
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Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. and indeed even God himself. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. precedes all being. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. for as I have discussed elsewhere. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. to in Emerson’s words. And perhaps all forms of Western literature.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. esoteric or not. to be guided by the author. 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.
particularly the arts of literature. the artist. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. fictional. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. issues from existential eternity. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. a different sort of knowledge. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
divine Nothingness prior to existence itself.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions.” and “is the beginning of a different world. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. “Creative activity. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. the artist. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. and its expression in human creativity. correlate to this? That Berdyaev is of paramount importance in contemporary philosophy I have no doubt—but his work in the end remains caught in the dilemmas that have proved so tragic for Christianity as a whole. It is knowledge. of creativity. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. or to put it another way. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death.” he writes. “it is an end of this world. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. Nishitani Keiji. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. and especially on the
. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. and therefore of division. As Berdyaev points out.
The force of destiny is at work here. egoistic mode of being. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. . This intensifies our narcissism. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously.”128 True emptiness. Out of this transcendence alone. . This is the field of shunyata. What
. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. one retreats into self even further. in other words. As rational or personal beings. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. Nishitani affirms.156
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Buddhist understanding of shunyata. what is the same thing. While this is our own act. emerges authentic freedom. As we have seen throughout this study. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. the choices of the will. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. “an equality in love. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. . and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. . In Nishitani’s work. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. of course. or perhaps better still. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. self-identically. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. or the emptiness of all things. it is not something we are free to do as we please . or “true emptiness. and us from them. . and has the effect not of separating.” an “absolute openness. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. .”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. or rather in unison. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. and indeed. that is. for faced with nihility. is beyond definition.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved.” Authentic freedom is.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . self-centered consciousness. Nishitani.
And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. The Western esoteric traditions. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. write and are written. for all their diversity. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. including paintings. or even linguistic construction. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. political. It can lead us. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. But in any case.
.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. anything that can be read or written. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. joined together with one another. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. have at their center this mystery of the word. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. as the sense of self and other diminishes. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. seen as a whole.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S
appears to be other—the cosmos and the divine—turns out in this process of revealing the fundamental self-other unity to be in fact indivisible from our inner nature. We read and are read. so Western esotericism suggests. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. Paradoxically. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. with nature. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. language is indeed divine. a calling toward what we are meant to be.
I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. 2. See Arthur Versluis. much of it in French. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well.aseweb.Notes
1. 1992). See also the journal Esoterica [www. see Antoine Faivre.esoteric. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after.org.msu. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. For an overview of Western esotericism. I retain the conventional distinctions between the capitalized terms Gnostic or Gnosticism (when referring specifically to figures or the current belonging to late antiquity) and the uncapitalized gnostic as a more general term not tied to any particular era.
. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. 5. in this field.edu ] for articles. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. The State University of New York Press series of books in Western esotericism edited by David Applebaum also represents an important contribution to this field. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. See Steven Katz. ibid. Faivre. ed. the official Web site of the ASE. 4. including Wouter Hanegraaff. mostly by North American scholars. See Hanegraaff. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. See www.msu. a Dutch scholar. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.esoteric. 1994).edu.. 3.
See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival.. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. 8. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. 219–233. 1973). 1975). whether they know it or not.. Paul: Paragon House. See Charbonneau. Paul. 83 ff. 1863). Dreams. Mircea Eliade.. p. 111. 1986). pp. 12. Gnosis and Literature (St. 1999). See Arthur Versluis. p. Peers. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. 18 ff. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. 37 ff. Myths. See Faivre. 13. pp.. cit. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. See.
1. 5. See Versluis. 7. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. John Pordage. 180. 1974). Nag Hammadi Library. see also Scholem. 6. in Arthur Versluis. pp.
. 11. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. 1992). p. 307. 1996). pp. 248. 97. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. p. 2000). pp. 4. 5. Translation is mine. 140..160
NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE
6. Victor Sogen Hori. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. 14–21. 9. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. p. p. eds. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. 309. See Versluis. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Jean La Fontaine. Paul: Grail.
1. 2000). 151. 2. 3. 51–89. 10–15.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. Paragon House. pp.. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. p. (London: Sheldon. op. 1991). Paul: Grail. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. p. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. p. 2. 2000). pp. pp. Nag Hammadi Library. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. 145. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. Ibid. trs. 14. Sophia. Ramon Lull. 223. See ibid. E. See Gershom Scholem. See Frederick Goldin. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 76–106. 10. 1978). pp. 1965). Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. ed. 4. 3.
13. Ibid. 35.. Ibid. 31.80 ff. op. 24. Ibid. 59.320–323. p. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.. for instance. 25. 49–50. 1961). See Pico della Mirandola. 16. p. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press.. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. Ibid. pp.. Ibid. cit. see also Scholem.75. See Mark Verman. Origins. p.205b. p. 101–102. p. Doctor Illuminatus. 1983).314. 1965). ed. Ibid. 1987). 1969). 21.77. Simon. Origins. 394. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. ed. 51. Gershom Scholem. see also Moshe Idel. 1779). p. 8.. 19. trs. cit.. (Princeton: Princeton University Press.. 61. 57. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations.351.. p.205b–206a. p. Ibid. 10. See Verman. Ibid. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 11.325. 1992). Opera omnia. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. Vasoli. 12. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. IV . 38. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. ed. and Françoise Secret. M. 278. op.. 22. C. 270. 17. p. 23. I. ed. 18. 33.71. I. Ibid. 14. See J.C. Ibid. 246. Origins. See Arthur Edward Waite. 280. 298 ff. Twersky. Cassirer. Bonner. 1985). 29. 32. See Scholem. 1953) I. 34.331. 57. Joseph Blau. Scholem. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. 1984). Ibid.. 66. 36. p. Ibid.. I. 7. See.
. Dan.... (London: Soncino.. pp. p.B. II. Ibid.. p. 1964). 1979). p.76. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.312.. 29. 28. 197. Tristan. 197. I. I. (Hildesheim: Olms. 1988). See A. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. Ibid. See Moshe Idel. Zohar IV . See Verman. op.. 250. Ibid. p. Cassirer. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher.. A. ed.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO
6. in The Zohar. p. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. p. II. et al. 30. 15. 20. trs. II.. 52. 27. I.. eds. 37. II.. I. 9. 26. 1986). cit. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press.
. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. C. Ibid. Fama.
. 37. Ibid. Secret Societies. (Cassel: Wessel. p. II. H.A. der gantzen weiten welt . The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. 1972). Ibid. 371. for the reader’s convenience. p. p. See Versluis. Confessio. Ibid. 53. p.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest.O.. 221. 260. 44. 40. p. Confessio. Ibid. 1999). Theatre of the World. 47. 1997).77. p. Ibid. 242.A. 59. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. The following page references are to Yates. a theologian. 1998). 50. p. a cosmologist. 1988). Resicrucian Enlightenment. See also Marsha Schuchard. and even chart them astrologically. 251. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment.. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. 48. 60. p. forthcoming.. (Cassel: Wessel. op. 46. . diss. . p. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. p.. See. 63. p. 1975). Ibid.681. Confessio.M. See Versluis. Ashmole. ed. Ibid. in a group called the Round Table. for text. . Ibid. Fama. 255. See Frances Yates. 67. 61. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. table of contents.. Ashmole. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon.. 55.162
NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO
39. 238. Fama. see Donald Dickson. . 1966). 56.. 49. a musician. The Alchemy of Art. 220. 54. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. D. I. Ibid. University of Texas at Austin. 43. 241. Josten. Freemasonry. 42.... for background. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . 45.102–104. Ibid. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. Confessio. ed. 51. Hall. p. 129. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. I have translated this work of Pordage. See Josten. See. and others. Fama. and also written an extensive commentary on it. 257. 58. 246. From von Welling. William Huffman..M.O... p.. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. Ibid. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. 52. p. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. 1971). Ibid. See Versluis. 1615). ms. p. 77. p.. 57. Yates. 253. I. including two physicists.P. p. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. p. M. 41. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. 22. cit. 62. 1784). 49. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. Frances Yates.. p. 252.D.
162–168. citing B. 1926). pp. 268. pp. 247–249. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. 1992). 654. and Albert Cherél. 256. 70. 1997). regulations . 257–272. . The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne.. 4. M. 409. p. D. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. 3. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. O. 1948). Sloane. M. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. 1967). 2. p. 69. 5. 172–173. 1734).” 99–134.. p. See Dickson. See also Schuchard.. Ibid. pp. 6. 1952). as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. p. (New York: Crossroad. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. p. 9. cit. see Versluis. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. and Margaret Bailey. Ibid. pp. p. Ibid. See also Bernard Fay. see also Max Ernst. 170–171. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. 1985). p.
1. Revolution and Freemasonry. . On Emerson and Hermeticism. 414. p. 8. Warlick. 65. p. See M. the Reformation. pp. 11. 1992). H. op. Ibid. 66–67. Brown. 253.. 110. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Freemasonry. 66.. Ibid. 240. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. ed. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. Ibid. Religion. See James Anderson. Milosz. pp.. 1997). Hugh Trevor-Roper. Faivre. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way.. 417. Ibid. E. A. 10. 191. 2001). Paul: Grail.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. 67. 1935). 68. changes.. p. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. See George David Henderson. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
64. S. pp. 7. Charge I. Ibid. 170–171. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. ed. (London [Philadelphia]: B. 2002). 71. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. See Edmond Mazet. Mazet. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). V de L. .
. 39. Franklin.
Ibid. 15. op. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. ed. Susan Friedman. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. p. 21. see Steven Bullock.. Ibid.. Ibid. 300. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. 18. 33. 13. p. 299. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. 2001). 16. pp. p.. 25. 182–183. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 248. 296. 174–175. of course. pp. 465. pp. 41. 1989).1 ff.. 157–206. 8–9. is into what did she translate this inner meaning.
. cit. See Versluis. 180–181. 210–211. pp.. 28. op. Ibid. I. 158)... 35. Friedman writes that “From her [H.. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. p. 224–225.115. 30. p.. cit.. Ibid. Ibid. 1982).. 48–52. Ibid. 20. pp. pp. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. p. 32. Ibid. 1994). introduction by Albert Gelpi. p. 24. p. pp.. 1996). D. Milosz. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. 17.. Ibid. 36. pp. Ibid. 31. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. pp. . 39. 23. 1985). Ibid.’s] perspective. 34. 464. Milosz. 40. 277. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 455. For a more extensive study. 1981).. 299–300. 14. 303. For the poet of the modernist era. 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. 297–298. pp. pp. 226–227.. 204–205. The question. See Versluis. cit. 19. p. 206–207.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. Ibid.. . pp. see Versluis..164
NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
12. p. Lib. 29. Ibid.. Ibid. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . pp. D. 27. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.. Ibid. Scott. Milosz. H. pp. Ibid. Ibid. 469. I. See W. Ibid. 38. Milosz. Ibid.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. 22. D. 37... op. Ibid. 26. 178–179.. trs.
102. in her “Zinzendorf Notes.. D. p. Ibid.. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. 46. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Ibid. p. There are. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). 75. 55. other authors we could consider here. See Jane Augustine. “Notes. 19. 32.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
42. Warlick. The Gift. 53. 33. Ibid. 54.. Ibid. 59. 44.” 1. 29. 60. D. Ibid. See H. 63. 52. p. 1998). for documentation.. Ibid.. “Walls. Ibid.. 68.. “The Walls Do Not Fall. Ibid. Ibid. H. Ibid. Ibid. 156–159. Irina Gutkin. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 1. See.. and I certainly recommend her article. Ibid. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel
. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia.. These passages were transcribed by H. 169. pp. 64. H... 49.” 30–31.. rpt. see also. 67.. p. 2001). 1967). 21. Social Realism” in B.. D. D. Ibid. Ibid. D. 71. 35. 284–285. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. Ibid. 70. D. Rosenthal. 66. p.. 45. Futurism. Ibid.. hereafter cited as TG. E. p.” on which see TG. p. “Tribute to the Angels. 61. 39. pp. 56. 222.” pp. as well as this entire collection of articles. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 157. 1997). pp. p.. H. p. 50. 47. Rimius. p.. 1989). H. Ibid. 168. Ibid. 165.. 73. The Gift. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. 271–272. 58. p. 69. pp. 17–19. Ibid. 70. Kathleen Raine. 225–246. 23. ed.. 13. 48. Ibid. 62. 9. 72. 67.” 17. 18. 1988).. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. 50–51. 57. See M. Kraus.. 20.. 43. of course. 50.. 65. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms.. 24.. See H. 74... 51.. 223. 20. D. 259. 154–155. 66. ed.. 21. p. Ibid. Ibid.
88. cit. 102. S. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. 100. p. Ibid. Dion Fortune. n. 40. Dion Fortune. 320. Gareth Knight. 88. Letters from England (London: Longman. p. retained his magical regalia in his office. The Works of William Blake. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. 78. 82–83. p. p. C. 1994). Ibid. Ibid. B. Faivre.. p. 87. 154. Dion Fortune. 10. hereafter noted as Meditations. Southey. p. 1997). p. 291. p. ed. noted hereafter as Vision. 1988) p. 91. 93. 89. p. pp. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 1994) p. Fortune. 77... pp. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. p. Meditations. Ibid. 1994). 21. Ibid. Collins. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947).. 86.). Faivre. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. Ibid. 101. cit. (London: Quaritch. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. 70–71. 91. Poems. 124–125. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. pp. E. 104–104. p. 95. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed.25. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan.. so I have decided not to include them here. including Fortune’s. The Secrets of Dr. 3 vols. Ellis and W.. C. Lewis. 87. p. See for instance.. 81. 102. Ibid.. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. 20–21. 94. 1993). 80.d. 112. 323. 1814). 322. Yeats. 79. See Collins. 98. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. 95. 99. 1990). 43. pp.. 92. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. Lewis. p. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element.166
NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). cit. The Magical World of the Inklings. See on this point.. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. p. 40. I. 101.. Vision..). p. op. and Meditations. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. 76. Collins. See Antoine Faivre. S. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. 239. op. 85. 103.. Ibid. p. 90. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press.. 1893).. 115.
. p. Gareth Knight. 127. Ibid. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire.. 97. 382. Ibid. Ibid. 84. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. 83. p. 197.. Vision. Ibid. pp. op. 96. p.. 82. Ibid.
Socialist Realism. 39. 105. ed. 225. 112. IV . p. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 108 ff. p.29–30. See also The Destiny of Man. 40 and pp. Christosophia IV .. 114. 94. p. 124. 126. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. 113. 103. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. Ibid..31. 74. 130. “Vorrede. 95. 109.... See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. Ibid.. p.” in B. p. 125. 127. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 117. Rosenthal. Ibid. 106. 40. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson.” 108. p. Peter Erb. 105. 1980). pp. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Irina Gutkin.” and I. Futurism. 71 ff.. 1997) p. p. Nishitani Keiji. Toronto: 1948).. 1991). 111. Freedom and the Spirit.. Ibid. 123. Ibid. Diss. p.. p. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. 110. 116. See. 25 ff. Ibid. p. Versluis. 106. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994).. Ibid. 129. p. 170... p. 93. “Warnung an den Leser. Ibid.. Knapp. 122. Ibid. I added the colors. for example. 78. p. Ibid. A. p.D. 62.. Ibid. 107. pp. 1994). from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 63. 128. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.. Ibid. 275 ff. 1957). See Charles C. 120. pp. Nicholas Berdyaev. I.. 62–63. p.1. p.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE
104. E. pp. II. Christosophia. 115.. 199. forthcoming. pp. 118.
.31. 285. See Versluis. trs.1 ff.. 194 ff. Ibid.. 1978). 121. 1958). 119.
61–62. James. 154 Dogen. 35–43. 102. 96 Dee. 90. 137 Boethius. 1. Tycho. Abraham. Elias. 25 Ashmole. Giordano. William. Heinrich Cornelius. 63. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 4. 30. 79 Backhouse. 28. 80 Böhme. 55–67. 150 Browne. 141 Agrippa. 129. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 20. 147 Buddhism. Tibetan. 57. René. 66 Corbin. 82 Bacon. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. Jacob.. 40–41. 24. 56 Art. 96 Berdyaev. 152
Brahe.E. ix. initiatory nature of. Roger. 11 Dury. 81–82 Descartes. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 56 Bahir. 81. 76 Buddhism. 99 Dickinson. 5. 138 Basilides. 68. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 2 Aurea Catena. 31.INDEX
Abulafia. 59 Dante. 28. 89. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 27–28. 81–82 Dee. 10. John. 78. 59. 56 Amor Proximi. Moses. 64. William. 72 Consciousness. Francis. 80–82 Astrology. Arthur. 2. Geoffrey. 63 Anderson. 139. 82–83
. 97 Cremer. John. 78. 141–142. 24. 53. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 93. 94. 129–135 Comenius. 51. 148–150 Alchemy. 95. 53. 142. 93. 22 Cordovero. John. 18. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 148 Barrett. 75 Chivalry. Franz von. 40 Bible. 5. 45 Chaucer. 57 Beatrice. 75. 81 Bruno. 154 Book of Life. 94. 42. 46 Christ. Sir Thomas. 14. 80. 5. Nicholas. 56 Baader. Henry. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 1 Collins. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 28. 143–144. 28–29. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 17 Blake. 140. 68–71. 52. 77 Bromley. Thomas. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 129. Abbot. 25 Apuleius. Cecil. 97. Emily. 47. 53 A.
Margaret. Albert. 126. 109 Hermeticism. 43–45. John Scotus. Johann Wolfgang. 76 Maistre. 78 Gnosis. 26–31. 137 Goethe. 100 Hirst. Jewish. 82–83 Heidegger. 9 Eliot. Christian. 4. Joseph Edward. Irina. Antoine. 1. Samuel. 104. Robert. 2. 77 Flamel. 90. 103 Fuller. Mircea. 104 Gichtel. Martin. Gareth. 19. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 21. 106 Eschenbach. 55 Koran. 112 Imagination. 153 Homer.S. 104. 8. 31 Melville..D. 100. 57 Eleazar of Worms. ix. 109. Max. 123. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 88-89. 99 Grail cycle. Johannes. Michael. 103–119 Hardenberg. 19. 5 Hori. 138 Katz. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 127 Frankenberg. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 123–126. Book of. 27–28 Gnosticism. 12–15. 46. Victor Sogen. 140 Hippolytus. 105 Eliade. 100 Marcus.. 42. 56. 50. 7–8. 77 Gelpi. 30. T. Rulman. 111 Esotericism [defined]. Abraham von. 63. Nicholas. Dion. 95 Hartlib.S. 56 Fludd. 44. 2. 111 Emerson. 111 Geheime Figuren. 112 Lull. 51 Islam. 36–39 Gutkin. 56 Maier. 89–103 Hermetism. 79–86. Jane. 35. 72–73 Faust. 104. Georg Heinrich. 5. 101–102 Frey. C. 56 Jerusalem. John. 105. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 52–54 Kabbalah. 122 Koan. 68. 65. 19 Faivre. 151 Merswin. 75. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 53. 97. 54. 46–52. 84. 22–24 Initiation. 103. 89. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 140 La Fontaine. 2. Ramon. Johann Georg. 102 Leade. Andreas. 7–8 Esotericism. 89. 28. 19–21. 84 Lewis. 89. ix. 57–59. 10–12. 29 Hiram. 50. 21–22
Hermetica. Jean. Wolfram von. 1 Keeble. Steven. 8–9 Larronde. 76. Jewish. 101 Freemasonry. Carlos. Joseph de. 9.. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 29 Mazet. 80–81 Fortune. Brian. Herman. 11 Hutton. Francis. Edmond. Ralph Waldo. Désirée. 112 Friedman. 2. 102 Lee. 107. 69 Franklin. 40
. 139 H. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 102 Ernst. 83. 18–21. Edward. 25 John. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 22. 25 Hinduism. 120. Susan. 129 Kelley. Benjamin. 82 Knight. 127 Loskiel. Meister. 153–154 Eriugena. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 21 Heydon.170
4 Shakespeare. 87–88.. 26–27 Moravians. Johannes. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 119
Raleigh. 99 Pasqually. John. 84 Pordage. 60. 21 Poiret. Rainer Marie. 99. 103 Pyrlaeus. 71–76 Rousseau. Gershom. 85. 76 Parzival. 140 Tao te ching. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 99 Prospero. 110 Southey. 56 Origen. 99 Philip. 25. O. 58 Numbers. 90 Milosz. 139 Saint Martin. 103. René. 40 Milosz. 118 Ramsay.INDEX
Meyrink. 140 Tauler. 148 Platonic archetypes. 105. 32 Plato. 152 Richter. 90. 141 . 47. 89–103. 52 Pansophy. 66 New Age. 63. 113. Czeslaw. 69. 108. Paulus. 46. 116 Nature [concept of]. 138 Stellatus. 69. Sir Walter. Gustav. 123 Poimandres. Vladimir. Louis-Claude de. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 46. 89. 94. Marsha Keith. 19. 76 Sufism. 115 Pythagoras. Kathleen. 48 Mysticism. 73.R. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 9. 17. 75–78 Paracelsus. 37–38 Pascal. 150. Marguerite. Joseph. 52 Piers Ploughman. Johann Christoph. 154–156 Norton. Jean. Samuel. 137. 103. 115. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 99 Scholem. 64. 115. 53.R. 79. J. Bernadette. 148 Radical ecology. 99. 8 Nishitani Keiji. Henry. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 63 Rici. 59. 29 Pre-Socratics. Martinez de.. 56 Moses de Leon. 87–88. 68. George. 4 Reuchlin. 11 Russian literature. 53 Theseus. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 152
. ix. Milton. Thomas. Gillaume. 114–115 Thenaud. 2 Postel. Gospel of. 90 Talmud. 2. 140 Templars. Blaise. 57. 36. 21. Christian. 108 Rimius. 116 Self. 5. 5. 26 Tolkien. 53 Theosophy. 8 Rosicrucianism. 70. 64 Roberts. sacred. 112–113 Morienus. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 56 Swedenborg. 39–40 Solovyov. 112 Ripley. 56. 5 Minotaur. 47–48. 120. 92. 148 Seidel. 84 Reading. 109. 18. 67–69. 2. Andrew Michael. 14. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 105. 51. 74.V ix. 53 Rilke. John. 40 Raine. 79. 52–53 Revelation. 14–15. 50 Schuchard. 13. Emanuel. 18. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 92. Book of. 90 Porete. 92. 136 Science and objectification. Pierre. William. 23–26. Jean. Johannes. Robert. 19. 43 Synesius. 32.
9. 137. W. 75 Yeats.172
Trevor-Roper. 82 Troubadours. 148 Zen Buddhism. 10. Arthur. 156 Zinzendorf. Nicholas. 103. 104. 10. 31 Viterbo. 48. 106 Washington. 84 Williams. 103. 53 Versluis. Charles. 122–123 Williamson. Georg von.B. ix. 120. 63.. 56
. 116 Yates. 110. Egidio Cardinal. 89. 86 Welling. David. 111 Warlick. 88. 112–113 Zohar. 140 Valentinus. Frances. Jean-Baptiste. 79 Willermoz. 55. M. 148 Zosimos. Hugh. 103. 10. 67–69 Upanishads.E. 111. 2. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 35–43 Ungrund.. George. 64. Adam. 101
(Leuven: Peeters.. along with its companion book. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. (Graz: Akademische. 1975). 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. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. 2 vols. 2001). 1994). 1998). Earlier.org. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. 1998). I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been
.esoteric. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. 2000). important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Theosophy. 1956). Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. eds. 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. 1992). and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. Imagination.msu. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman.aseweb. 1998). 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. Gnoses.
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY
combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. 2002). Paul: Grail. Gnosis and Literature (St. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. Paul: Grail. 2001). enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. 1999). 1994). edited by Brian Keeble. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press.
. Paul: Paragon House. 1996). 2000). 1996).